Driver Retention 101

January 3, 2023

If you manage a fleet, you know the vast difference between working with long-term, reliable commercial drivers and new hires. You know your team’s strengths and weaknesses and who can be relied on in a crisis. 

But that awareness doesn’t always line up with having implemented a solid retention strategy—or even knowing what your company’s driver retention rate is. 

Driver retention is critical to success, security, and growth capacity in the trucking industry. A trucking company must prioritize truck driver retention, especially if or when there’s a driver shortage. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of retention and how to improve yours.

What Is Driver Retention?

Retaining something simply means keeping it, so what is driver retention? It’s keeping drivers with a company over a long period vs. losing them and having to constantly train and invest in new hires. An effective fleet or truck driver retention strategy encompasses the following: 

  • Finding and hiring the right people
  • Creating an environment that values employee input and satisfaction
  • Rewarding employee loyalty in multiple ways

The first step to accomplish this in a company is to commit to creating a documented plan with clear guidelines, goals, and performance indicators. Make sure it allows for continued monitoring, re-evaluation, and flexibility to figure out what works best for your company. 

What Is the Level of Turnover?

Retention rates differ by trucking company size and type. According to the American Trucking Association and the National Private Truck Council, turnover between 2013 and 2021 1

  • Decreased from 90% to 78% for large truckload carriers ($30M+ revenue)
  • Decreased from 79% to 73% for small truckload carriers (less than $30M revenue)
  • Increased from about 13% to about 23% for private fleets
  • Remained steady at 10 – 11% for less-than-truckload (LTL) fleets

While the decreases for truckload carriers are good news, their turnover rates remain quite high, and the significant increase in private fleet turnover is concerning. 

Why Is Driver Retention Important?

Hiring a new driver means training them in company policy and on equipment, ensuring their skills are up to speed, and getting them to an acceptable performance level. All told, it typically costs between $5,000 and $10,000 to replace one driver 2

The negative effects of a high turnover rate include: 

  • Decreased capacity and loss of revenue
  • Increased HR costs related to the frequency of hiring, onboarding, and training
  • Rushed hiring of less-than-ideal candidates
  • Increased errors, accidents, and vehicle costs due to less skillful fleet or truck drivers
  • Reduced employee satisfaction due to work overload

How to Improve Driver Retention

Although you need some trial and effort to find a custom fit for your business, there are reliable methods to reduce driver turnover.

#1: Grow Your Growth Opportunities

Many workers end up job-hopping to slightly higher pay or roles as an alternative to remaining stagnant in one company. Retaining good people means providing continuing opportunities and working actively with employees to help grow their careers. 

Consider the following: 

  • Career trajectory opportunities, discussion, and documentation as part of onboarding
  • Mentorship programs and connections
  • Growth plans as part of regular employee reviews
  • Supporting employee continuing education and pursuit of certifications or credentials
  • Actively nurturing employees for higher-level roles and hiring from within

#2: Obtain and Analyze Your Data

Don’t just rely on management input or anecdotal information—do your research to evaluate employee engagement and pain points. This includes: 

  • Detailed exit interviews exploring reasons for leaving
  • Annual surveys covering job satisfaction, company engagement, and management ratings
  • Proactive gathering of driver requests, complaints, and suggestions

Once you have it, analyze the data. Over time, what trends can you identify that overlay driver input with other data sources covering work-to-workforce level, seasonal changes, shifts in pay and benefit levels, and performance indicators? 

#3: Provide Competitive Compensation 

There’s no doubt that money is a key driver (no pun intended) in attracting and retaining talent. And the past few years have generated upheaval in pay rates across many industries. 

Fleet dispatch owners need to stay informed of current average pay rates for their location and industry—especially compared to their competitors—to know how compelling your salary offers are. 

As of May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that top-paying states (by annual average) for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers include 3

  • Washington: $57,190
  • District of Columbia: $56,530
  • Alaska: $56,440
  • New Jersey: $56,340
  • New York: $55,390

When you drill down to metropolitan areas, average annual wages top out at: 

  • Cape Girardeau, MO-IL: $62,600
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $62,290
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $61,540
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA: $60,020
  • Danville, IL: $59,440

#4: Provide Dependable Compensation

Most truck drivers are paid by the mile rather than an hourly wage or set salary, but that model can lead to driver frustration rather than increased performance. Drivers can’t control: 

  • Dispatch performance, errors, and efficiency
  • Customer changes and cancellations
  • Weather 
  • Road closures
  • Significant slowdowns due to major accidents or traffic snarls

Instead of the opportunity to earn more relative to their own performance, cents-per-mile too often generates lower and inconsistent earnings. From a driver standpoint, this pay structure can be interpreted as companies offloading system, sales, and “act-of-God” costs onto them—not a great recipe for retention. 

More carriers are moving away from cents-per-mile. The National Transportation Institute identified a jump of 6% from 2020 to 2021 in companies switching to guaranteed pay for drivers 4.

Another earnings pain point is complex or confusing pay structures that drivers find frustrating or unfair. Financial compensation needs to be easy to understand, dependable,  and consistent to keep drivers secure.

#5: Improve Employee Benefits

Now more than ever, benefits are the cornerstone of total compensation. From the critical basics of health care and retirement plans to options like legal insurance and gym memberships, the right benefits package can be a determining factor in a driver deciding to stay or jump ship.

#6: Choose the Right Fuel Cards

One of the top five reasons drivers quit is the lack of appreciation and respect, but these can be shown in many ways—policies, management style, and even your fuel card program 5.

Similar to the need to provide dependable pay, drivers were traditionally held responsible for covering fuel and other receipts out of pocket before submitting reimbursement requests. This structure placed a heavy financial burden on drivers contributing to higher turnover rates. But with fuel cards, that legacy is eliminated, and drivers can cover their miles with more financial security and peace of mind.

The right fuel card will arm your drivers with the following: 

  • Reliance on their judgment in selecting the right stop
  • Ease of use to respect their time and minimize manual reporting
  • Flexibility to engage them in cost-saving opportunities

Learn more about fleet card benefits and how they can help you streamline your business.

#7: Work with the Best Toys

Motoring down the highway on a duct-taped seat with an odd smell from the air conditioning vent isn’t an experience to bring in the best drivers. 

Beyond prioritizing maintenance and repair, drivers are attracted to companies that spec and purchase newer vehicles and devices with features that enhance their comfort. 

#8: Encourage Driver-Centered Leadership

How much does leadership impact employees? Imagine entering a workday confident that your manager knows your concerns, needs, and capabilities, has your back as an advocate within the management structure, and appreciates your efforts. 

Chances are you’ll outperform a colleague with an absentee manager or one who pays little attention to their concerns or suggestions. Mutual respect and understanding of each others’ concerns and goals are essential parts of the factors below: 

  • Daily job satisfaction
  • Working efficiently vs. grudgingly
  • Operating with pride and investment in the company 
  • Working together to identify positive change and opportunity

Job satisfaction related to leadership plays an important part in retention. Having issues with supervisors or dispatch is a top reason drivers give for leaving jobs—creating a driver-centric organization can improve performance, reduce turnover, and boost your bottom line 6.

#9: Find Flexible Solutions

Another high-ranking explanation for leaving a company is the lack of home time. Truck driving puts a significant strain on a family, particularly with long-haul assignments and delivery management obstacles. Managers need to keep an eye on the work-life balance of each driver and its likelihood of spurring a resignation.

Communicate with drivers to understand their limits and motivators, using that information to come up with a plan that includes scheduling flexibility for matters like key family needs, events, and crises. It’s worth the effort to retain a solid driver for the long term by accommodating their needs for short-term leave or reduced time on the road. 

#10: Stop Reading and Ask Your Drivers

Well, okay—go ahead and read through the end of the article. Then, go to the source for driver retention ideas. Ask:

“What would it take for you to remain with the company for the next five or ten years?”

Consider scheduling virtual round tables of current and even former employees to brainstorm ways to improve driver retention. Gathering a blend of “why you’ve stayed” and “why you left” feedback is critical, and going the next mile to bring drivers into retention strategy planning can give you an edge against your competition. 

How AtoB Can Help

Improving driver retention requires a multi-prong approach that includes efficient and cost-effective tools and systems. When it comes to fuel cards, it helps to have a flexible, fully trackable program. 

The AtoB fuel card doesn’t come with narrow limits on truck stop chains or product range. It’s accepted nationwide by any vendor that takes Visa cards—so you have the ability to establish usage guidelines for your team. Drivers may be able to spot lower prices at local mom-and-pop stations or handle unexpected repairs on the road. 

With AtoB Unlimited, you make the rules for how your drivers use your fuel cards, whether that’s fuel only or inclusive of road tolls, insurance, repairs and parts, or other travel incidentals. 

We value clients at every scale, from national TR carriers to single-owner LLCs, and provide one of the most adaptable and easy-to-begin fuel card programs available. Learn more and get started saving up to 25 cents per gallon today with an AtoB fuel card

Why wait? Fill out your AtoB fuel card application today!

Sources: 

1 Heavy Duty Trucking. HDT Fact Book 2022: Driver Turnover Slows. https://www.truckinginfo.com/10179472/hdt-fact-book-2022-driver-turnover-slows-except-for-private-fleets

2 Avatar Fleet. How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Truck Driver? https://www.avatarfleet.com/blog/how-much-does-it-cost-to-hire-a-truck-driver

3 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021: 53-3032 Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes533032.htm

4 The National Transportation Institute. Does Guaranteed Pay for Truck Drivers Keep Them in the Seat? https://www.driverwages.com/does-guaranteed-pay-for-truck-drivers-keep-them-in-the-seat/

5 Avatar Fleet. Top 5 Reasons Why Truck Drivers Quit Your Company. https://www.avatarfleet.com/blog/reasons-truck-drivers-quit

6 Avatar Fleet. Top 5 Reasons Why Truck Drivers Quit Your Company. https://www.avatarfleet.com/blog/reasons-truck-drivers-quit

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