Bus and Motor Coach Library

Driver Retention - Protecting Your Assets

Author- Robert A. Crescenzo, Lancer Insurance (2002)

Driver retention should be a top priority for every bus operator. Drivers are your best assets for getting and keeping customers because drivers are the face of your company. While you work hard to create new business, your drivers are your partners in retaining that business for you. If you manage to hold onto your drivers long-term, it can have a positive effect on safety, productivity, cost control and customer service. 

But driver turnover is a much too frequent problem for many bus operations and, if you have a high turnover rate, you have to figure out why. You can determine your turnover rate with a simple calculation: divide the number of driver positions you have by the number of drivers you hired in a year, and the resulting number is the turnover rate. If your turnover rate is greater than 25% or if it has increased dramatically in the last year, you have to change your retention strategy. You can't stop turnover completely, but there are definite steps you can take to reduce it, and vastly improve your driver retention situation. 

The first thing you need to do to get better control over the problem is to understand why people leave. Studies have shown that managers and supervisors will have some very different opinions from the drivers themselves as to the reasons why drivers don't stay. Managers will see the issue as primarily a monetary one; simply put, drivers will leave for more money elsewhere. But with drivers, there is something else that puts them in the state of mind to want to leave. Drivers who are interviewed after they leave one job for another will often say that the reason they move on is because their expectations of what was required of them are different from what has become expected of them. Also, promises made to them at the time of hiring, such as bonuses, certain hours, pay scales, and other benefits, were never kept.  

When you understand that honesty is the best policy from the time of the interview to the on-the-job expectations, you can help keep your drivers if you just make sure you follow through on what was discussed and promised. You can also be upfront about what might be the rough things about the job, like late hours, multi-day trips, long layovers or other aspects of the job that can hurt driver attitude and morale. If an employee knows what to expect, when these things do happen, he or she can handle it better, and your credibility won't suffer in the process. Consistency in what you say and what you deliver will go a long way towards keeping your drivers on the job.

Drivers need to know what is expected of them at work. If your company does not have a Driver's Manual, you should make it a priority to develop one. The manual should contain information for all your drivers and should outline work standards, proper dress, explain what behavior is expected, how to provide customer service and detail how these instructions should be carried out according to company policy. It gives your drivers a sense of stability when they know what they are expected to do so there are no surprises, and it makes for a less confusing work environment if the driver isn't getting different directions from different company managers. Any policies that directly affect drivers should be consistent and enforced. This will improve a driver's confidence and ability to do the job well.

You should provide each of your drivers with the proper tools and materials to complete their work successfully, including: customer service instruction, itinerary planning help, maps, methods of communication (e.g., a cell phone), fueling requirements, vehicle maintenance, techniques on working with a tour guide and supplies that the passenger group is supposed to receive on or with the trip. This information gives the driver direction and confidence that the job is being performed efficiently and correctly. Do everything you can to lessen frustration for a driver who is already on the road and might unexpectedly be missing some important items for the trip.

Not surprisingly, salary and benefits are among the reasons drivers will leave to work somewhere else. Many of your drivers have families to support and all of them will have bills to pay . . . and your company is in competition with other businesses for professional drivers. You must do the research and make sure your pay levels and the benefits you are offering are competitive and adequate for your industry in your geographic area. This will be a good way for your drivers to see their compensation as a fair wage. Make sure your drivers know the value of their benefits so that they are not just seeing their bottom line salaries, but the total compensation package as well. Stick to whatever annual increases you have promised and, if you have to change anything related to compensation, communicate with your drivers honestly about what the changes are and why you must implement them. They may not like it, but your candor will likely be appreciated.

Because professional driving carries with it a great deal of responsibility to passengers and to everyone else on the road, safety should be an overriding concern for everyone in your company. A commitment to safety by management carries over to your drivers. High accident rates can give your company a bad reputation. Business will suffer and that reputation can rub off on your good drivers . . . and no one likes to be associated with bad news. If an employee perceives your company to be at all lax in the area of safety, that driver will not feel personally valued. You have to be very careful about who you are adding to your driver pool. A study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers with two or more different driving jobs over a two year period are more than twice as likely to be involved in a crash than are CMV drivers with a more stable employment history. That's all the more reason you would want to keep good drivers on your team. Keeping your vehicles well-maintained both mechanically and in appearance, fosters a sense of pride in the driver who is in charge of the coach. It is discouraging and embarrassing to have to operate a sloppy, dirty vehicle, and having a mid-trip breakdown can be an awful experience for a driver, especially if it happens frequently. It shows a lack of concern and respect for your employees if they are sent out in sub-par equipment.

Driver training has been provided by motorcoach companies for many years and it's an important part of boosting driver skills and confidence about their driving abilities. Conducting refresher classes shows you are concerned about safety and keeping your drivers' skills sharp. The FMCSA study cited above found that the most progressive training programs are also offering drivers the potential for advancement to other positions in the company. Although driving may still be their main duty, the chance to advance to a spot in management, sales, training or as a safety director can be a great incentive to stay with your company. The fact that you have provided the training to a new career path is a vote of confidence for your employees that will create an environment of trust and satisfaction. Your training program should not only address technical and safety issues, but should also pay attention to lifestyle concerns, like managing and combating fatigue, both before you drive and once you are on the road.  What you want are employees who are loyal, and you build that loyalty by offering them the opportunity to make themselves and their lives better.

Drivers, like all employees, are usually seeking recognition, pride, significance, growth and value in their jobs. While wages and benefits are key issues, they are not the only issues. If an employee feels that he or she is undervalued, not allowed to think and contribute ideas or are not being recognized for his or her efforts, that employee will seek a job that does provide those benefits. You must find ways of getting your drivers involved in making the company a better place to work. A confidential suggestion box, an open door policy, motivational posters and encouragement from management to contribute their ideas and comments can be invaluable tools for making your employees feel important and valued. Keep your drivers informed about company issues and business matters, and keep them informed about the latest developments in the industry so that they can be better educated about their jobs. Emphasize the sense of being a member of a team.

Establish safety and other incentive programs to keep your drivers involved with the company. The simplest and easiest way to recognize a job well done is to say "Thank you", so never miss the opportunity to acknowledge someone's good work.  Safety recognition awards are terrific ways to reward drivers. They can include incentives in the form of monetary rewards, bonuses, useful gifts, discount coupons at local retail establishments, gift certificates, patches, pins, and plaques that can be displayed prominently on a company wall. You can reward drivers for passing certain milestones for accident-free miles driven. You can develop a point system where bonuses increase as the mileage milestones increase. Accumulating points could provide incentive for good drivers to stay with you rather than moving to another company and have to start accumulating points from the beginning. Make a ceremony out of the presentation of the awards. Do it when you have a company picnic with the spouses and children present. Give your employees the chance to shine.

One of the best ways of keeping drivers in your employ is listening to them and acting on what they have to say. If a driver is leaving, ask why and try to get him or her to be very specific about their reasons. And while you're at it, ask your current drivers why they stay on the job. Listening to and learning from your drivers could be painful and frustrating, but it is an opportunity to improve your business. Pay attention to the personal needs of your employees, and give consideration to special days and time off for personal occasions. If you are fair to the men and women who make these requests, chances are your drivers will not take advantage of your kindness, and your good intentions will be appreciated. Motivate your drivers to stay by demonstrating company leadership and make sure you communicate, on a daily basis if need be. It keeps the company operating as a team and shows respect for those you hire.

Drivers gain on-the-job satisfaction when they feel they have done a good job and they are recognized for their efforts. Drivers who stay with a company for a long period of time are usually happy with the level of pay and benefits, the consistency of their work days, the support they receive from their company both at home and on the road and the feeling of respect from management. The time and expense it may take to keep your drivers satisfied with their jobs and with your company can help you avoid having to go though recruiting and hiring again, making it well worth the effort.