A bonus was the heart of Clark Griswold's plans for his Christmas vacation.
In the 1989 film "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," Griswold staked his entire Christmas plan on surprising his family with news that he had gotten a big bonus, and that he would build an outdoor pool with it. When he didn't get a bonus, Griswold went on an extended tirade.
You don't need to watch films to know bonuses are a big deal to truck drivers. Indeed, many truck drivers make plans and base their income projections on them, according to one transport expert. So it is not just competitive pay that should be heavy on the minds of fleet managers. Additional items such as bonuses, parking and even showers are also heavy on the mind of drivers, according to transport officials.
Pay me fairly
Pay is the starting point of what retains drivers, but in trucking, pay can seem a byzantine process. Driver pay is not usually meted out per hour or in a salaried manner. Max Farrell, CEO of WorkHound, said he discovered during his 2020 driver survey that the issue is not always about the size of pay, but how the pay is earned per mile, per trip and per empty load.
"The abundance of questions about the feedback indicates that commenters are seeking clarification about complex pay policies and structures," Farrell said. "It is not simply an opportunity to vent frustrations."
Farrell, whose company accrued 38,500 comments from 12,700 drivers through 2020, debuted his conclusions during a Thursday webcast. He found pay was a crucial issue in keeping drivers happy, which became all the more important during the pandemic and the driver shortage it heightened. Comments about pay numbered a third more than any theme that received comments, Farrell said.
Negativity about pay and the way pay is meted out was a theme in feedback, Farrell said.
"Paycheck errors are a consistent source of frustration," said Farrell. "Companies need to know that correcting these errors is a top priority. However, in circumstances that an error is actually a misunderstanding, it's important that companies take the time to explain."
Farrell said complex pay structures and fluctuations in load availability lead to confusion among drivers about maximizing earning potential.
"Many drivers had concerns for their job and felt insecure about the future. This stress made it more difficult to cope."
Other drivers bemoaned a lack of work, which accounted for about 28% of pay comments in 2020.
"Many drivers had concerns for their job and felt insecure about the future," said Farrell. "This stress made it more difficult to cope."
When freight was slow in coming to trailers, it made drivers sensitive to the manner in which loads were distributed, Farrell said. Drivers feared favoritism would mean loads would arbitrarily be given to some drivers. The main solution to such concerns is transparency, he said.
"Look for ways to simplify and stabilize pay structures this builds trust and minimizes confusion," said Farrell.
Bonuses and amenities
Fleets need to be aware that bonuses are extremely important to drivers, Farrell said.
"The data indicates that when drivers anticipate bonuses that never come, they're at high risk of turnover," said Farrell. "It's important that drivers are clear about bonus goals and the requirements don't shift during the qualification period. Drivers feel cheated when they don't get that anticipated bonus."
Farrell also pointed out that the importance drivers place on bonuses signals issues in the pay structure. "If drivers are reliant on bonuses as a regular part of their pay and need them to reach their financial goals, this is a strong indication that pay rates may be too low," he said.
"When drivers anticipate bonuses that never come, they're at high risk of turnover."
Right now, with a driver shortage, drivers are not taken for granted.
National Carriers, which is owned by National Beef Packing Co., just finished a 13-acre facility for their drivers in Liberal, Kansas. Located near the Oklahoma border, the facility is in the heart of cattle country and replete with showers, a lounge, coffeemakers and, of course, TVs and wireless internet, according to Edward Kentner, National Carriers director of social media.
Its 500 company drivers and 200 owner-operators travel to 48 states, moving beef from 10,000 cows, processed daily, by its owner.
National Carriers took part in the WorkHound study, Kentner said, and learned drivers wanted more parking at the Liberal facility, and they wanted hot showers.
National Carriers decided to spend $5 million on the truck facility in Liberal, adding parking and two showers.
The beef carrier also offers bonus pay every quarter if drivers finish in the top 25% in three categories: fuel efficiency, safety and service standards. Each category brings an extra cent per mile. If drivers finish in the top 25% in all three categories, they get a total of 4 cents per mile for the quarter in question.
Kentner said drivers are very interested in how they are doing each quarter, and will call into the headquarters to inquire about their bonus statistics. Pay is also key, Kentner said, and the carrier has relatively low turnover.
"We just gave out raises 30 days ago," said Kentner.