Bus and Motor Coach Library

Driver Retention Practices

Author – Bob Crescenzo, lancer Insurance (2004)

This is the second part of a two-part series on driver hiring and retention practices, authored by Bob Crescenzo, Vice-President of Safety for Lancer Insurance Company   

In the First part of this series, I addressed the issue of Driver Hiring Practices and described the key reasons why careful driver selection should be a top priority for every bus operator.   This article focuses on methods and techniques you can use to retain the drivers you select and train.

Company drivers, like all employees, really need to know what is expected of them.  If you do not have a Driver's Manual, now would be a good time to put that project on your "to do" list.  A Driver's Manual (even a very simple version) provides information, sets standards and explains what is expected and how it should be done.  Studies have repeatedly shown that a key element to employee satisfaction is their comfort in knowing what is expected of them.  Sounds simple, but it is harder than you think, especially in smaller companies in which the driver's immediate supervisor (i.e. the owner) might be doing two or three jobs for the company.  If a driver gets different directions or expectations for every trip, he or she will be confused and hesitant to make decisions and incapable of solving problems.

You Must Provide the Tools
Honestly ask yourself the following question; have I provided my drivers with the proper tools and materials to complete their work successfully?  Do I have a consistent policy about proper dress, driving techniques, customer service, itinerary planning, map usage, communication, fueling, vehicle maintenance, working with a tour guide, etc.?  If the answer is "no" to anything on the list, you are expecting your driver to work without the proper tools. Have you ever tried to fix an engine without the proper wrench?  Frustration is the most common result.  If frustration is a common experience for your drivers, they will be less likely to keep working for you.

Drivers seek recognition, pride, significance, growth and value in their jobs.  While wages and benefits are a key issue, they are not the only issue.  If an employee believes he or she is undervalued, not expected to contribute ideas and not recognized for his or her efforts, that individual will seek a job that does. Drivers also need a balance between home and work, and they need respect from those they work for and the passengers they serve.

When it comes to wages, make no mistake about it; your company is in competition with other businesses for employees and some (if not most) of that competition is not in the transportation business.  Pay levels must be competitive and adequate for your industry and geographic area, especially when compared to other industries in your region.  Full-time versus part-time work may be a critical factor in retaining your drivers.  You will not be able to retain a part-time driver who really needs a full-time job.  Some drivers will change jobs over a small pay differential; you simply cannot keep everyone happy.  However, if you have a high driver turnover, you have to figure out why.  Simply 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 has increased dramatically in the last year, then it is time to find out why. 

Perhaps you installed some new black box devices in your motorcoaches or began to do very specific road observations only to find that some drivers were unwilling to adapt to your more stringent requirements.  The result may be that you had to let them go or just didn't keep them on the assignment list.  However in this case, the ends justify the means because if you have made changes to improve your safety program and customer service capabilities, and you are well on your way to improving the likelihood of retaining your other drivers.  If on the other hand, your drivers are constantly leaving after less than a year of service and there seems to be no obvious reason, you clearly have a driver retention problem.

Talk to Your Drivers
How can you find out why drivers leave?  Simply ask them …and don't stop there.  Ask your current drivers why they stay on the job.  As an owner, it is a lot easier to tell people what to do than to ask them their opinion and listen to their answers.  Listening to and learning from your drivers may be difficult at first but, in the long run, might improve your business. Motivating your drivers to stay by demonstrating company leadership and better communication is cheap and easy. The driver's immediate supervisor is another key element to retention.   Offering the driver understanding and respect, building ways to recognize individual driver needs and being clear about the company's expectations are the best way for the supervisor to retain the driver.
Here is a brief "Retention Checklist" for you to use that might help you apply some of this theory to practice at your company:

 -     Are wages adequate and in line with prevailing local labor rates?

 -     Do the hours worked meet the driver's expectation?

 -     Have you identified ways to reduce downtime and time away from home?

 -     Are you providing personal growth through skill and knowledge training?

 -     Do you know which parts of the job your drivers like the most …the least?

 -     When you know about the dislikes, what do you do about them?

 -     Do you have a driver recognition/award program?

 -     Is the driver position a job or a career in your company?

 -     Have you instituted a longevity and/or bonus program?

-     Are your supervisors trained in human relations skills?

 -     Is there an effective employee to management communication system?

 -     Do you keep drivers informed about company issues and business matters?

 -     Is your company the "best transportation company" to work for in the area?

 -     Are you keeping your customers happy at your driver's expense?

            Finally, understand that not all turnover is bad. If you lose a bad driver or one who is not on your 'team', proper selection of the next one will improve your situation.  Remember to keep safety and risk control at the top of your list over driver force stability.  No one will argue with you if you intervene when a driver proves to be unsafe.  However, retention and driver morale will improve when you weed out the bad drivers and reward the good ones.  Remember that when all is said and done, driver retention is critical to your financial and safety success.