Back in the pre-pandemic days I was at a transportation conference having lunch with a Human Resources director who worked at a midwestern trucking company. We were discussing the challenges she was facing with driver health and driver turnover. They were substantial and complex challenges. Midway through our lunch, the HR director had to excuse herself to take an urgent call. When she returned, she apologized, and it was obvious her mood had changed from upbeat to subdued. I asked if anything was wrong. She said actually it was.
The challenges of professional driving
She explained that the call she just took was from one of the carrier’s most valued drivers: a long time employee and a safe and experienced driver. She had hired him years ago and knew him well. He was calling to quit. He said he had had it. He was more than frustrated while sitting in a Houston traffic jam, feeling his blood pressure rise and his headache increase. He had hardly slept the night before. He was going to be late for a delivery and he had just had a negative interaction with his “*#!@ dispatcher”.
Impact on the family
Worst of all, he was having a heartbreaking family crisis. He had spoken to his wife early that morning and she had told him that she was fed up being a “single mom” (or so it felt to her). She was sick of being stuck with sole responsibility for parenting of their two teenaged sons, one of whom was a special needs child. And she was tired of having to manage their bank account, the household, and even caring for his elderly mother completely on her own. She said she needed a full-time husband, and she had insisted he quit his professional driving job and come home… or else.
Sitting in traffic in the Houston heat, stewing on the conversation with his wife- he had reached his limit. He was calling to quit. The HR director said, “ Honestly, Norman I always get anxious when one of our veteran drivers calls me directly. This stressful lifestyle really puts all of them just a phone call away from quitting.”
The growing problem of driver turnover
Afterwards I reflected a lot on her story. Her driver turnover rate was “only” 40% per year. That’s pretty good in an industry where many carriers experience 90%+ turnover annually. With a national shortage of drivers – particularly safe drivers – turnover is getting worse by the day. She is also in an industry that routinely spends millions of dollars per year on driver recruitment. But in my experience, it’s an industry that often overlooks providing driver-centric services that address the social isolation drivers face, help them manage their daily dose of stress, improve their health and wellbeing, and achieve better work-home life balance. All of these could be addressed at a fraction of the cost of recruitment.
After that conference, we recognized that many drivers are indeed only a call away from quitting this difficult, yet vital occupation. Or they could be only a call away from assistance. We began offering a service called TalkNow, often in combination with our driver-centric Fit To Pass health coaching service that helps drivers stay fit enough to pass their periodic DOT required medical examination. Not therapy or counseling per se, as the TalkNow name implies it gives drivers the opportunity to speak now with a licensed counseling professional 24/7. It’s immediate help at the time they need it. Without an appointment, without inconvenience and with an assurance of confidentiality and privacy. Our TalkNow counselors can steer drivers and their families to helpful resources, help them talk through a sensitive personal issue and problem-solve, provide an objective professional’s input on a difficult emotional matter, or just provide a safe place to ventilate or “blow off steam”.
My HR director friend’s driver didn’t have access to TalkNow. I wish he had. He just might still be driving for that carrier.
This immediate access to compassionate, trained professionals is not the be all and end all to support work-family life balance and wellbeing for drivers. But its missing in most benefit plans carriers offer their drivers and their families. And it’s even more inaccessible to Owner Operators- a mainstay of the industry. If you are responsible for supporting the wellbeing of drivers and you want to avoid that “one call away” situation, today would be a good time to look into a service like TalkNow.
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.
Driver turnover rises…
Heavy Duty Trucking
Dec 16, 2020