Broken promises: Retention missteps on the road

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Updated Dec 15, 2022

Last month, I wrote about my experiences coming back on the road trucking. Having hauled now for more than a couple decades, I nonetheless continue to be amazed how some trucking companies seem geared to view the driver, whether an invested owner-operator or company driver, as an infinitely renewable resource. That is, such companies seem to say, “There will always be more where that one came from.”

I thought with experience and an outstanding safety record, I would not have to deal with such attitudes, yet as noted, I can still be amazed.

For all the talk of improving retention around trucking, how do companies expect to retain the best, safest operators if they continue to overpromise and under-deliver?

The principal issue here, again, had to do with the translation (or lack thereof) of recruiting promises to the operational realities of the road. When I signed on, knowing the cost of the truck lease payment and terms of the pay package, among other information, I knew I needed at least 3,000 miles per week to make it all work to my standards. I was promised as much.

Yet when the rubber hit the road, only once in six weeks did I achieve more than 3,000 miles, and then only because I threatened to walk away. Then, I was once again promised that I would be above 3,000 a week from that point on. But the following week, after picking up a load that would have given me 3,200 for the week, the delivery date and time was changed, landing in the next pay period and leaving me 1,000 short of the mark.

Then: a load to Colorado for a Monday delivery the week of Thanksgiving gave me a little more than 1,800 miles, good progress to 3,000 miles. Since I had elected to stay out and work over Thanksgiving, I expected at least a 1000-mile run that I could drop off no later than the following Friday. Yet once again I sat for two and a half days before a dispatch sent me a little more than a thousand miles, delivering on Saturday and putting it on the next pay period.

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[Retired: Want to improve retention? Define 'professionalism' to set the standard, build value]

I had talked until I was blue in the face. I was at the point of losing my composure and temper when I decided that I would not allow that to happen. I came to the realization I had thrown my saddle over a horse that could not live up to its promises and produce. There comes a time when we must weigh the options.

I found a new company to work with. Off to a new adventure, as it were.

This time, I chose a company that met all my needs and who happened to include people I have worked with before, as well as others I knew from prior business relationships. Those people proved instrumental for me to make the needed evaluation.

Why would a company bring on operators with big promises when it does not have the miles or the trucks? As is recommended in Overdrive’s Partners in Business manual’s chapter on leased owners’ choice of a carrier, get out and talk to similarly situated operators at the company about their miles and profitability before making any choice. Some companies place a priority on loading their company trucks before their leased-out or otherwise owner-operated trucks. Some operators choose to eliminate that possibility altogether by choosing an all-owner-operator carrier, as did the owner detailed in this story and podcast here in Overdrive. 

I committed six weeks of my life, I feel now, to a losing proposition, and while the financial hit was significant, it was a bigger disappointment that the company turned out not to live up to how they portrayed themselves in the recruiting process.

Nevertheless, tis the season to be merry, and with the Christmas holiday fast approaching I should be able to make up for lost time. Drivers, don’t neglect to make time with your families. There are plenty of time suckers out here that could care less about your needs; make the time for those who do care.

Cherish the memories made, because time is short, and this time of year we should always be amazed by the spirit of love in the air.

[Related: Time is but a vapor -- make the most of it]