Transport Insights

CDL Driver Retention - It's Not All About the Money

Jeff McClure, Safety Consultant 

Date: 3/22/2022


Drivers have always been highly sought after, and the supply struggles to meet the demand. In the last couple of years, this concern has only increased.


Companies are currently seeing a high rate of employee turnover, which unfortunately includes drivers (over 51% driver turnover rate according to a study done by Fleet News Daily). Even though this trend is better than in previous years, it’s still a concern when you consider that one out of every two drivers will leave.


Why should this matter to your company? Greater turnover means less retained knowledge of seasoned drivers, more cost to recruit and refill positions, difficulty fulfilling logistics services for existing and new customers and lowering morale and confidence as a whole. This can also create suspicion before the driver ever begins the first day or even considers your company as an option. Drivers will talk — good, bad or ugly!


While everyone is aware of this issue, how do you make practical, proactive efforts to get and keep the good ones?


From my experience, a great first impression is the start of a beautiful relationship. This begins with “rolling out the red carpet” from the beginning of the hiring process. Meet the driver where they are. Communication should be frequent, clear and in a platform that works for the driver (that might mean a phone call instead of using email).


Two of the biggest mistakes a company can make is hiring a driver that is inexperienced and not giving them the tools they need to be successful on the road, or hiring an experienced driver and assuming they have all the knowledge they need to perform well. If they’re changing companies, there must be a reason they left the previous one.


Once you’ve decided on a new hire, make them feel like they are a valued part of your team. A welcome note in the mail with a small gift (a new company shirt, travel coffee mug, snacks for the road, etc.) can go a long way and confirms to them that they made the right choice.


Along the same lines, having company issued supplies, such as logoed shirts, correct PPE, supplies they may need on the road like pens, notepads, working electronic logging devices, plus proper training materials and the correct internal contacts at training continues this confidence. These items also market your company to other drivers and shows customers that you value your drivers.


Think outside the proverbial new hire box as well. I have seen companies send new drivers for training that didn’t have $5.00 in their pocket. One simple fix is to make sure these new hires have their basic needs met, such as meals during training. A hungry driver is not a good student.


Even though financial compensation is an easy way to motivate some people, rewarding them by completing training for company gear could be just as motivational. Consider credits for completing milestones-training (e.g., first seven days, first 30, 60, 90 days, etc.) This will reassure their choice and set them on a course of loyalty to their company.


The second biggest part of retaining great drivers is putting their safety first. Keeping physical equipment, facilities, electronic equipment and online systems in safe, clean, organized and functioning order will help the driver focus on their task at hand.  As a company, your main goal should be to send drivers out and get them back safely to their families and to keep pedestrian drivers safe as well.  Accidents will happen, but you don’t want it to be because you cut corners on safety. 


The drivers do have the responsibility for maintaining the requirements as a commercial driver and making good decisions; however, a reminder system to help them keep these items up-to-date let’s them know that safety and procedure is important to the company. Be a hands-on partner with them instead of letting things fall through the cracks and pointing fingers. This builds even more appreciation and loyalty to you as their employer.


I reached out to some team drivers and other drivers and their families who say that the pay rate is through the roof, but what they desire is balance. Allow drivers the ability to have home time on a regular basis. That may mean two weeks on the road and three days off without exception. Drivers may say they don’t want the time off, but the downtime is necessary for their physical, emotional and mental health, whether they admit it or not. Give drivers time off as part of their onboarding package and allow them to actually use it for vacation, sick time, family/children’s needs. This may mean that as a company you must revisit how to be flexible and more accommodating. 


In my experience, drivers and employees will work harder for you and go the extra mile (pun intended) when they know their time off and needs as a human are respected. This also means providing them with reputable, reasonably priced medical benefits and time to handle medical issues, if necessary.  Many times, a small medical issue can be resolved quickly and get your driver back on the road instead of putting it off where it turns into a major issue with long downtime. 


Fair pay is important and necessary, but that is not what motivates people. How many times have you seen on a truck or trailer, “We pay better than the rest!” or some version of that? It always makes me wonder why they have to pay more. Many times, drivers can’t appreciate benefits that they don’t have or don’t understand. Do you have a 401K program, savings plan, healthcare/exercising benefits plan and a longevity plan? Show a driver that there are ways they can provide for their family other than just a paycheck. These can include discounts for gym memberships, incentives to quit smoking or weight loss, annual doctor visits incentive, safety bonuses, credits for company gear, gift cards, lunch, hotel points, company/group discounts for travel on off-time. Or you can ask them! This leads into the last but possibly one of the most important aspects of driver retention.


The one aspect of driver loyalty will never have a dollar sign in front of it and that is trust. This is a biggie!  It may feel like looking at an impossible mountain to climb, but in theory, it’s one small change and step at a time. Start with a mentor program by assigning a seasoned driver or excellent driver manager to a new hire. Give an incentive to the mentor and make sure that they’re the right fit to bring someone under their wing. It might be worth having a full-time person that is the driver liaison that creates these matches, follows-up with the seasoned employee, documents the concerns and successes of the new hire, follows through with fulfilling incentives and is the receiving and sounding board for ideas and changes that would make the life of a driver a little better. 


One logistics specialist told me that it might be cliché, but people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad situations and bad managers. Most of the time they leave without giving the company a chance to rectify the situation or improve from the feedback. The best resource for feedback is someone who is actually performing the job. If they are giving pointers, that means they care enough, it matters to them and they trust that the company will listen and adjust appropriately. By having a mentor and liaison, the new driver’s questions and concerns could be answered without any changes, or it can be an opportunity to see through fresh eyes where changes are needed. Be open to this feedback! If you have a great employee, whether a driver or an internal operations person, keep an open platform to advance them into other roles or incentivize them on what personally motivates them. There is no better way to know how to motivate than to ask! 


There will be turnover. The goal is to minimize it and to hold on tight to the good ones. The overall time and financial commitment to make this dream a reality will be worth it in a strong, healthy company culture consisting of experienced and loyal drivers. It’s really about changing the effort from scurrying and stress to fill positions to rewarding those that are performing well and nurturing the new ones. This will turn the tables and create an atmosphere where great drivers will never leave you and other qualified divers will seek you for employment.  It can be done and actually save you money!