TruckRight Insight

How to Avoid Truck Driver Burnout

The life of a commercial truck driver can be a difficult one. Faced with long hours, extended periods away from home and the challenges of coping with life on the road, drivers can, if they’re not careful, suffer from burnout.

Research into the phenomenon shows that there are three components to burnout: physical and mental (or emotional) exhaustion, cynicism towards the job, and an erosion of confidence in skills and abilities.

What Does Truck Driver Burnout Look Like?

Burnout can manifest through several indicators, including: 

  • Feeling constantly tired or drained; 
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Decreased immunity, leading to frequent illness;
  • Changes to sleep habits or appetite;
  • Turning to food, drugs, or alcohol for coping;
  • Self-doubt or a sense of failure;
  • Feelings of defeat or helplessness;
  • Sense of isolation or a desire to isolate from others;
  • Increased feelings of negativity;
  • Lack of satisfaction;
  • Irritability and short-temperedness;
  • Procrastination or withdrawal from responsibilities;
  • Absenteeism or lack of punctuality for shifts.

Offer Drivers Support When Burnout Happens

There are no quick fixes for burnout and, usually, it’s quite late when the symptoms begin to manifest themselves. One of the recommended solutions for dealing with cases of burnout is to reassign the affected person. Although it may be difficult in every circumstance to do this, removing drivers from the situation that’s causing burnout can help. 

Providing more resources, such as additional time to do the job and more training to cope, can also be beneficial. In addition, managers should review the demands they’re placing on drivers to ensure they’re reasonable. Ensuring drivers have support systems available to them in the form of social networks, phone touches and other interactions and relationships with team members can also alleviate some of the stressors of the job.

Help Drivers Prevent Burnout from Happening

A much better approach, when possible, is for managers of carrier companies to deal with the factors that can cause stress before burnout happens. Many of the recommendations for helping truck drivers avoid burnout are related to managing their time. This is something they may not always feel they have a great deal of power over, given the demands of the job. As a manager, it’s vital that you emphasize the importance for your drivers to be proactive in this area. 

Here are five practices to help avoid truck driver burnout:

Making Use of Technology

One of the benefits of Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) is their ability to assist in preventing drivers from becoming overworked. Fleet managers should encourage their proper use and can even utilize the ELD data to identify and reward good driving habits. This will not only help your team avoid burnout, it will also add an incentive for your drivers to embrace this technology. At the same time, using ELDs will help your company improve both the safety and productivity of your fleet.

Developing a Regular Schedule

It’s easy to become isolated, dissatisfied and develop feelings that your situation is outside your control when you don’t have a routine or schedule to ground you. As much as possible your drivers need to set and stick to schedules related to sleep, meals, exercise and hobbies or activities outside of trucking.

Breaking Up the Workday

They’re called breaks for a reason, because they break up your day into more manageable chunks. Just as with vacations, drivers will benefit from breaks throughout the day that allow them to give their bodies and minds a rest from driving. Insist that your drivers pull over for breaks and get out of their cab. The boost to their energy and focus when they continue driving will more than make up for the few minutes spent off the road.

Getting the Most From Time Off

Finally, drivers should be encouraged to develop other pursuits outside of trucking. Many hobbies are portable, allowing truckers to do them while on the road. Take an interest in how your drivers are spending their time off. This knowledge may also point to ways for you to motivate and reward your team members with benefits or bonuses that are related to their interests. 

We’ve mentioned in our retention series how gift certificates, subscriptions, memberships, tickets to related events, or even time off to pursue those interests can serve as a retention tool. Savvy managers can also use such perks to help combat driver burnout.

Taking Vacation Time

For some drivers, the temptation to skip taking time off is strong. After all, the more you drive, the more you earn. While keeping your wheels turning may seem like the best path to building a nest egg, this approach can lead to exhaustion, followed by burnout. For that reason, it’s important for all members of your team to take time away from the job to relax and recharge. 

Curbing Driver Burnout is Good Business

Any change to your team’s behavior requires frequent monitoring, repeated encouragement and communication regarding expectations. Adopting these practices throughout your carrier will take time and patience. The benefits over time, however, can have a huge impact for your reputation and bottom line. 

Your overall costs in lost hours, insurance rates, and recruiting investment will reflect the benefits of curbing truck driver burnout. Your drivers will be more satisfied and engaged, and enjoy an improved quality of life, which will lead to improved morale within your team. This will result in lower turnover, greater productivity and improved safety. 

Add to that the fact that you’ll be making the roads safer for all and you can see that dealing with truck driver burnout is a win-win for everyone.

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HOW MUCH ARE YOU WILLING TO RISK?

The true cost of an accident can be staggering. Besides direct costs, indirect costs like poor publicity, lost clients and lost productivity can take a toll. The average cost for a truck accident is $148,279, not including litigation. It would take an additional revenue of $7,413,950 to pay the accident costs, assuming an average profit margin of 2%. A study of over one million lines of data on truck violations discovered that over 28,000 trucking companies, representing over 200,000 trucks, operated with safety violations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association’s (FMSCA) settlement for non-compliance was $36,262,097 in 2014 with an average fine of over $7,000 per case.