COVID-19 has prompted greater concerns for driver safety and sanitation, many drivers worry their companies will not have enough loads for them and pay remains a constant concern.
Just over six months in, and 2020 has already been one for the record books. Over several months, the U.S. has been battling a pandemic, an economic recession, and civil unrest. But through all the uncertainty, trucking has remained a constant and essential industry.
Since March, commercial truck drivers have faced new, unexpected challenges and frustrations. The pandemic has prompted greater concerns for driver safety and sanitation, many drivers worried that their companies would not have enough loads for them to make ends meet and pay is a constant concern for truckers.
WorkHound, which gathers anonymous feedback from drivers who work for fleets with as few as 61 trucks to more than 2,000 trucks, reported that for the first half of 2020, it received 18,400 comments from more than 7,200 drivers—77% were company drivers, while 23% were owner-operators. Max Farrell, co-founder and CEO of WorkHound, delivered the driver feedback results during a July 22 webinar, hosted by the Women In Trucking Association. Delaney Rea, driver services manager for Melton Truck Lines, also joined the webinar to discuss Melton’s use of the WorkHound app.
WorkHound breaks up its driver feedback into themes. So far, the top five common themes of 2020 are logistics, equipment, pay, people and communication. A newly introduced COVID-19 theme quickly became a top theme in the spring but has since dropped off as the topic became part of the new normal, Farrell noted.
Between January and June, 4,625 driver comments mentioned something related to logistics, Farrell pointed out, and 18% of logistics comments were tagged with pay.
According to the data, the most prevalent topics within the logistics theme in the last several months are:
Load availability/preplanning: Drivers are worried that their companies don’t have enough loads, Farrell noted. Drivers also may perceive favoritism as a barrier for them to get good loads, Farrell added. Another issue that continues to pop up is hours of service (HOS). Drivers feel like load planners don’t consider HOS and the driver’s reset. Wait time is also an area of frustration for drivers.
Load information: Drivers have shared that they aren’t getting accurate or enough information when it comes to planning loads.
Fuel planning: Drivers have expressed concerns that they feel fuel plans are inefficient and that there is a lack of understanding about how bulk fuel accounts work.
For Melton Truck Lines, Rea explained that many logistics comments come down to an individual’s experience. Driver feedback has helped fleet managers at Melton see what topics matter most to drivers and what should be presented to the overall fleet throughout the year.
“Favoritism is something that can come up as a concern,” Rea said. “Once we explain our planning process and how that removes the opportunity for bias in that load planning, that helps alleviate some of those concerns.”
Another complaint that has come up at Melton is drivers addressing challenges with a customer. Drivers will use the WorkHound platform to voice when they weren’t treated well or they didn’t feel the space was safe, or directions weren’t accurate.
“We have an internal process called Rate My Load, where drivers are able to rate their shipper and the experience,” Rea noted. “They have an open-ended comment section where they can add any direction changes they would like to see. That goes directly to our load planners. That was something that we hadn’t been doing a great job previously advertising enough to our drivers on a regular basis and it alleviates a lot of concern.”
The equipment theme for the first half of the year covered trucks, communication technology, shop challenges, trailer issues, and feedback about facilities. Equipment issues comprised 21% of all driver comments, according to WorkHound.
“We have to keep in mind that for many drivers, their truck is not only their tool to do their job, but also, it’s their residence on the road,” Farrell emphasized. “Drivers are dissatisfied with their trucks. Nearly a third of comments about equipment were about trucks. They remarked on how much they disliked the truck or felt it was uncomfortable or ill-equipped. Only a small minority of drivers’ comments on their truck felt satisfaction and appreciation for it.”
WorkHound also saw that technology continues to be a source of frustration for drivers. Comments about electronic logging devices, GPS and various communication software were universally negative, noted Farrell. And those issues are compounded when a technical problem leads to unscheduled downtime or loss of revenue.
According to WorkHound data, drivers also feel that trailers are constantly in short supply. Many drivers expressed difficultly locating trailers in a timely manner, citing cleanliness and maintenance as challenges.
As a percentage of comments, in terms of themes, pay has become more prevalent than people in the first half of 2020, explained Farrell. In addition, drivers expressed concern about being misguided by recruiters.
“When promises of high pay are broken early, trust is often difficult to regain,” Farrell said. “However, drivers will acknowledge when office staff are ready to remedy their pay concerns.”
“Drivers are very aware of the time they spend not on the road,” he added. “Drivers are hyperaware of what they believe they should be paid for. If the information on their paychecks doesn’t line up with their calculations, or they are not clear and concise, drivers feels like they are getting taken advantage of.”
Throughout the course of the pandemic, Melton has not offered its drivers hazard pay; however, the company has come up with other ways to show its drivers they are taken care of.
“What we did do right off the bat is we understood hazard pay to be more of a reflection of drivers feeling like maybe they weren’t safe or wanting to make sure that they felt like they were being taken care of, and they wanted to make sure that we understood what things looked like for them out on the road,” Rea said.
The company ended up waiving the copay on its telehealth service, so drivers could call in and speak to a driver at any time.
Melton also made sure that drivers had what they needed on the road at the start of the pandemic when certain supplies were hard to find. The company built care packages at terminals with water, masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc. The company also gave drivers free meals to thank them for their work on the front lines.
“On top of that, we increased our communication with drivers throughout the first couple months of COVID-19,” Rea said. “It helps that we went through the 2008-09 crisis without laying off any of our employees. We talked them through what that looked like, and that helped us overcome some of the hazard pay requests as well. We reiterated that we had been through crises in the past and one of the ways you get through is by being conservative and making sure that we still have a space for everyone’s job.”
“Reassuring them that the choices we were making as a company were to be conservative and consistent and really focusing in on how we could find more freight and keep them busy,” she added. “It really overcame the hazard pay and other pay concerns that we saw come through, and we started seeing more positive pay comments come through on the other side of that communication.”
Some of Melton’s drivers even offered to take pay cuts as a gesture to help everyone in the company keep their jobs.
“We saw an increase in our drivers saying, ‘I am willing to do my part, you can take a cent or even 6 cents per mile off of my pay, I want to make sure that we get through this together,’” Rea added. “That was a really heartwarming thing that came through. We did not take up any drivers on that. We kept everyone’s pay consistent, but we were able to share that with their managers and give them a pat on the back for being such a great part of our team.”
At WorkHound people themes have always been the third most common theme Farrell has seen. This year, however, the people theme was surpassed by pay. Farrell did point out that the people theme had the highest percentages of positive comments across all the themes WorkHound analyzes.
“Trucking is a people business; drivers do not want to be treated like numbers,” Farrell said. “They are more likely to stay with companies that have the human touch and strive to create personal relationships with them.”
Farrell also noted that drivers want office staff to be held at the same level of accountability as they have for themselves.
“When drivers feel deceived in any way or feel like they are the victim of favoritism, this affects their trust of the entire company,” Farrell explained.
According to Farrell, drivers typically have a lot to say about overall communication problems. Communication was an important theme over the first half of the year, as drivers wanted more guidance and clarity from the company during the pandemic, the unrest and the volatility within the financial market, Farrell explained.
“Drivers have been hyperaware of dispatch missing or not returning calls,” Farrell said. “They expressed concerns with communication because they aren’t getting a status update about their feedback and assume that it isn’t being listened to or acted on. Drivers have shared frustration with unprofessional or rude communications from staff. And drivers shared their frustration about a lack of transparency, which is the key to developing trust and confidence with drivers.”
At the end of the day, the old adage that employees quit managers not companies is true for drivers as well, Farrell pointed out.
“Drivers stay with companies that strive for strong personal relationships, and they also are at-risk for turnover if they feel disrespected by office staff,” he said, adding that fleets should be mindful of how driver concerns are interconnected.