How to graze in greener pastures

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Updated Dec 31, 2017
Pay might be the key element in successful recruiting and retention, but that doesn’t tell the entire story of workplace satisfaction.Pay might be the key element in successful recruiting and retention, but that doesn’t tell the entire story of workplace satisfaction.

Last month Hornady Transportation announced a sign-on bonus that could be as high as $10,000. It wasn’t the first five-figure sign-on bonus announced in recent weeks.

That’s no surprise. The latter 2017 drumbeat of optimistic forecasts continued as the new year dawned. Check our story on page 20 if you want to see the latest roundup of evidence.

One recent statistic is that the American Trucking Associations says third-quarter turnover for large truckload fleets rose 5 percentage points to 95 percent. ATA frets that the driver shortage is headed for â€śan all-time high.” Most owner-operators more correctly assess the true shortage as one of driver pay.

Bottom line: The demand for your services is higher than normal. There’s a fair chance you’re among those who could be looking for better pay, working conditions or both, if you haven’t already done so.

In last year’s “What Drivers Want Survey,” done by Overdrive and Truckers News, owner-operators said low pay is the top reason why fleets have trouble attracting and retaining drivers. Nothing new there, but there’s a curious twist in the response to another question: “What is the one thing you dislike most about your job?” Only 4 percent of owner-operators cited insufficient pay. Six out of 10 chose this: “Regulations make it harder to work and make a living.”

Some of the other top choices – lack of respect, strain on family life and health, lack of miles – point to key things to investigate if you do look for a better arrangement. Here are a few key points to consider, drawn from Overdrive’s Partners in Business manual:

  • Question anything unclear in the lease agreement.
  • Ask all about the money: What are the policies for fuel surcharge, layovers, empty miles, loading and unloading, lumpers, tolls and detention? How’s that sign-on bonus structured?
  • When you’ve narrowed your choices to two or three fleets, consider visiting them. Prepare as many questions as you can, and put them to someone from each department you would deal with.
  • Ask management, but especially any other leased operators you can find, about the reality of company culture: Respect, home time, available miles, safety emphasis and communication with management. A serious lack on these issues can easily be a deal breaker, no matter the pay.

The reality is that there’s a lot more to running an owner-operator business than chasing the next sweet bonus or an extra penny per mile. With downtime and other matters, the total cost to change carriers can run into thousands of dollars. Don’t let a rash decision force you to repeat the process too soon.

If you’d like some more detailed advice, check this chapter, “Evaluating carrier compensation,” from our Partners in Business manual. Also, you can order the full manual in print or digital download form, which includes a chapter on “How to choose a carrier.”

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the Partners in Business book, updated annually.
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