Disrespect of drivers at shipping dock outweighs carrier appreciation

Updated Sep 17, 2013

With National Truck Driver Appreciation Week coming up, let me be the first to say ‘thanks, driver’ – but also that I’m not sure this official celebration is worthwhile. If trucking companies really want drivers to be happy and productive, it’s time to get tough with customers.

Drivers rate lack of recognition ahead of home time as a reason for leaving a carrier, according to a recent survey. (BB&T/Transplace graphic)Drivers rate lack of recognition ahead of home time as a reason for leaving a carrier, according to a recent survey. (BB&T/Transplace graphic)

Here’s how I see the big picture: NTDAW isn’t so much about trucking companies’ making a special effort to recognize and honor their drivers, it’s about reminding the public why drivers are so important. Necessary, but hardly appreciative.

Carriers, after all, had better show appreciation to good, professional drivers every day, and not just by throwing a barbecue once a year. Maybe drivers will be lured to a carrier whose annual event is bigger and better than anyone else’s, but that’s only because the ribs always smell sweeter at the other terminal.

For many long-haul drivers, in fact, an annual party at HQ is just a reminder they can’t make it, or that attending will cost them some mileage revenue. Carriers realize this, of course, and many use the occasion more for special recognition, to reward the best of the best.

And I’m confident drivers appreciate any party they actually participate in. I’ve been to my share of trucking hoedowns, and a good time was had by all—though local staff always outnumber drivers.

My point is that NTDAW is more a reminder to those disenchanted drivers that, indeed, they are not appreciated. With TL turnover rates at 100 percent, it’s hard for carriers to make their case.

So why bother? Simply, PR.

The enumerated and enthusiastic points on the NTDAW “event ideas” sheet emphasize the importance of inviting politicians and policy makers (and freeloading journalists—there goes my picnic plate) to meet truck drivers, the genuine backbone of the American economy, and so to make a good impression.

Protecting the industry from misinformed regulation is absolutely critical, and winning the hearts and minds of the highway-sharing public is very, very important. But that’s not ‘driver appreciation.’

If trucking companies want to show drivers some love, how ’bout getting the message to customers? After all, long-haul truck drivers spend more time on the shipping docks than they do at their home terminals.

Sit around any truck stop driver lounge and, most likely, you’ll find that drivers aren’t complaining about their companies; they’re upset with the way they’ve been treated that day by shippers and receivers.

Shippers know this, that’s the aggravating part. I sit in on a big shipper event every year, and sessions on carrier relations are always well attended and lively at the Transplace Shipper Symposium. The latest event was no exception.

According to a BB&T survey of 4,000 drivers, pay was the leading reason most leave their jobs, followed closely by the “lack of recognition or respect,” at more than 30 percent, BB&T trucking analyst Thom Albrecht told the many Fortune 500 company reps. Notably, that sensitivity to disrespect is a bigger problem for drivers than not getting enough time at home.

“As an organization, you’ve got to get across to your people to treat these folks with respect,” Albrecht said.

So why aren’t carriers doing more to let shippers know they need to shape up? Or do shippers just not care?

We’ll go into some detail on driver dissatisfaction, customers and the Golden Rule(s) in Part 2 of this post.