How smart fleets excel at driver appreciation

Excel at Driver Appreciation

April 26, 2023

News

Some people might view a trucking company creating an indoor tarping station or adding heated floors to the shop as a facility cost. Savvy owners and managers, on the other hand, know that it’s actually an investment in their team—and in retaining them over the long-haul.

I’m not suggesting that it’s absolutely necessary to take on the expense of upgrading facilities and adding new buildings. (Thousands of motor carriers succeed without doing that.) However, if you’re truly committed to showing your people that you appreciate them, you’ll look for any opportunity to make their lives better every day.

That will inspire long-term loyalty in truck drivers and support staff alike, and help you out immensely in your retention efforts.

Going beyond the basics

Providing generous compensation and meaningful benefits certainly help in attracting and retaining truck drivers. But my experience over 30 years of working with trucking company owners and managers has taught me that you can’t simply throw money at people and hope to keep a good team together.

Successful leaders understand that the secret to effectively motivating people lies in showing both recognition and appreciation. The best way to accomplish this is by expressing gratitude and rewarding excellence.

If you’re doing this now, you already know retention is just one of the benefits resulting from truck driver recognition and appreciation. When done properly, they also deliver increased morale, improved engagement, better performance and a stronger company culture. Who wouldn’t want that?

While many people use the terms recognition and appreciation interchangeably, there are differences. Simply put, recognition focuses on what people do, while appreciation highlights who they are.

Recognition is performance-based, focusing on accomplishments. There’s a limited supply of it. Not everyone celebrates a milestone or achieves a performance goal each and every month.

Alternatively, appreciation isn’t about accomplishments. It’s based on acknowledging people’s value and inherent worth. In some ways, appreciation is more difficult to deliver, because it’s an “all day every day” thing. But it’s powerful stuff! When you show your people appreciation, they feel as if they’ve been seen and heard, and that their contributions are meaningful. That helps you connect and build trust within your organization.

Listening matters, big time

Listening to your people is critical to making them feel valued. That’s especially true for trucking companies, where your drivers are out on the road and you may not be seeing them on a daily or even weekly basis. When you have an opportunity to talk to them, make certain you give them your undivided attention. No phone. No computer.

Better yet, instead of waiting for them to come to you, be sure to check-in periodically. This gives truck drivers opportunities to bring up questions and concerns, and lets you practice doing that listening thing.

Check-ins also give you a chance to offer positive feedback and let team members know proactively what it is about them that you value. Is it their consistency? Their cheerfulness? Their attention to detail? Maybe a customer passed along some praise? Let your drivers know.

So often people only hear from their bosses when there’s something wrong. You’d be surprised how much difference simply calling someone to say you think they’re doing a great job makes. Imagine what doing that regularly for your whole team might do for morale!

You can also do group check-ins. Take a few of your drivers out for coffee or lunch now and then. Try holding periodic barbecues or potluck lunches for your whole team at times when the most drivers and staff happen to be present at your facility. Apart from showing appreciation for your team, this is also a great way to break down walls between departments at your company.

The best trucking companies don’t view truck driver recognition and appreciation as programs: they see this as a part of who they are. It’s woven into their company culture.

Material changes that really make a difference

When it comes to appreciation, you can have a massive impact by going beyond surface-level initiatives. Think instead about creating material change to improve their day-to-day work environment.

Remember the indoor tarping station and heated shop floor I mentioned earlier? In the first case, I spoke to a well-known carrier in a cold weather region that had recently constructed a heated shed for their drivers to use, allowing them to escape the elements while they tarped their flatbed loads. Similarly, the heated shop floor was another trucking company’s solution for making the lives of their mechanics more bearable during the winter months.

You can bet that the drivers and mechanics at those trucking companies not only appreciated those features, but felt valued by their employers because of them.

You don’t have to make these kinds of investments to motivate and inspire. You can start with smaller improvements that make life easier for your team. Are there things that they need to do their job like clothing and emergency/safety gear? I’ve seen some companies provide branded merchandise that drivers can buy at wholesale, saving them significant money on things they need to do their job. You can also show your truck drivers you understand the needs that come with being on the road for so much of the time by adding features like EpicVue or SiriusXM satellite radio in their trucks.

Another approach is to find ways to acknowledge and make your OTR drivers feel more connected to the team when they’re returning from long runs, or even going out on runs. Some trucking companies place a digital welcome sign at their gates that is personalized to the truck drivers arriving and departing that day, calling them out by name and wishing them well.

Again, it comes back to listening. Start by talking to your team to learn what matters most to them. Then start doing the things that make their lives better every day.

Commitment plus creativity equals loyalty

Adopting a committed and creative approach to developing truck driver recognition and appreciation practices that go above and beyond is what distinguishes carriers in the marketplace and helps drive long-term loyalty across their workforce. While you may not do it for this specific reason, it’s the trucking companies that strive to do more for their team who wind up making the shortlist of Best Fleets to Drive For each year.

So when it comes to driver appreciation, keep doing the easy stuff, recognition and so on. But to really make a difference, ask yourself one question:

How can I make life better for my drivers every single day?

Whatever the answer happens to be, that’s what you should consider doing, even if it’s not easy. Your drivers will thank you. Better yet, they’ll never want to leave.

Dirk Kupar is Cofounder and President of TruckRight, KAT Media, and Kupar Professional Services. He’s been in the transportation industry for almost 40 years, including 12 years as a multi-truck owner operator and 25 years at the helm of an international truck driver leasing business.