“New Ways to Think about Driver Retention” was a topic discussed at last month’s Fleet Forum hosted by Heavy Duty Trucking and Fleet Owner magazines at the Mid-America Truck Show. Attendees no doubt expected to hear about new ways to structure salaries and schedule routes, however a much different message was delivered.

Representatives from the four fleets, Ozinga Brothers (Chicago), Load One (Taylor, MI), Carbon Express (Wharton, NJ), and Southeastern Freight Lines, were very consistent in their thinking and approach on this topic. They agreed that the most important aspect of driver retention is “respect”.

According to the panel, many fleets do not show enough respect to their drivers, and when drivers do not feel respected, they become frustrated and quit. The fleets on the panel have acted to address this situation by developing programs and strategies to make their drivers feel more respected.

For example, one important element of providing respect is better communication. One fleet instituted a process that makes sure the drivers are informed about all issues relevant to doing their jobs successfully. Another has developed a two-way evaluation system so that drivers can communicate how well they believe their company is treating them. A system where the drivers are consistently talking with the mechanic who services their truck was also presented.

While the concept of showing greater respect initially seems obvious, a “no-brainer” if you will, I think the issue is more pronounced than you might think. Companies in general don’t show their employees enough respect. This phenomenon is more obvious regarding truck drivers because the job is demanding; also, due to the driver shortage, turnover is high and employees can easily bounce from company to company.

This “respect gap” is largely a result of changes in our culture. Society does not respect blue-collar, tradesmen, and factory workers the way it once did. We value “smart work” much more highly than “hard work.” We are working smarter, not harder, but we have forgotten that hard work is still important and should be valued by everyone.

The preference for “smart work” has its costs. Precisely, it translates into around $1.2 trillion of student loan debt that millions of debtors are struggling to pay off. (Ask me again why the housing market is so weak.) This equates to an astounding 6% of the overall national debt. We convinced the Millennials that they had to go to college to be successful, and then threw tons of money at them for education to get degrees that are not currently in high demand in this economy.

This college-bias was highlighted recently when it was “revealed” that a current governor, who may be a presidential candidate, never (gasp), never (double gasp), graduated from college! Articles were written (of course by journalists with college degrees) questioning his ability to run the country without the benefit of a full (he attended for three years) college degree. I have no idea how this guy is actually running a state without a diploma on the wall. Of course, this culturally driven lack of respect is harming our entire political process also.

In another recent incident, a video was released showing a television sports reporter berating an employee of a towing company. Part of the rant targeted the person’s lack of education and profession. This lack of respect and college-bias would seem to be growing worse.

Another cost of this bias is that while people sit home with their new Sports Management degrees, unable to find jobs in their field and pay off the $30,000 college loan, good, skilled, manufacturing jobs remain unfilled. This is also hurting the transportation equipment industry as OEMs try to find enough production workers to meet robust truck and trailer demand. Spread this condition throughout all industries, and you have a misallocation of labor that is hindering economic growth.

Cultural norms are very difficult to change. You may have heard the trendy saying, “treat the janitor with the same level of respect as the CEO.” I guess it’s time to stop agreeing with the statement and start actually living it out. Fleets need to respect their drivers more, companies need to respect their employees more, and we all need to respect each other more.