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Driver turnover driven by different factors depending on tenure, gender

Tenstreet analyzed exit survey data to figure out why drivers leave carriers

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

In 2021, the United States saw a record shortage of 80,000 truck drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations. This worsening driver shortage has pushed companies to bolster recruiting efforts yet again, making themselves as attractive as possible to new drivers.

At the same time, however, many carriers experience turnover rates above 90%, suggesting that companies could benefit from funneling some of their recruitment efforts into retention strategies. In order to do that, carriers need to know why drivers are leaving in the first place.

Tenstreet recently analyzed their exit survey data to pinpoint the most common reasons drivers choose to leave carriers. The dataset spanned six months – from June 2021 to January 2022 – and included responses from nearly 3,000 drivers. 

Retention efforts across the industry tend to focus primarily on pay. While pay is certainly an important factor in retaining quality drivers, simply issuing raises is not the answer to the driver turnover issue that plagues the industry. In fact, results from Tenstreet’s analysis revealed that drivers with different amounts of tenure tend to leave carriers for vastly different reasons. 

Drivers with less than one year of experience

Drivers who had been behind the wheel for under a year reported a unique set of concerns. Over 15% of these drivers left carriers due to training issues, something not even 2% of drivers reported in any other tenure range. This group’s second largest area of concern was family issues, again outpacing drivers in every other tenure category. 

It makes sense that first-year drivers present with a different set of considerations. These drivers are still learning the industry, going through their initial training, and figuring out how to navigate family life while over the road.

“One of the biggest things carriers overlook is drivers with less than one year and their family issues,” Brad Fulton, director of research and analytics at Tenstreet, said. “Addressing this means opening up conversations and providing them with resources. These folks are at risk of leaving the industry entirely, and that is a problem for the industry as a whole.”

Drivers with one to four years of experience

Once drivers have passed the one-year mark, they begin to leave carriers for what Fulton called “quality of life issues.” These folks have figured out their place in the industry, and they are starting to look for ways to improve their lives through income and home time. 

For drivers with between one and four years of experience, pay and home time stood out as the most common reasons for switching carriers. In fact, home time was a stronger driving force for this group than any other tenure category. These drivers are starting to feel the impact of being away from family, and any carrier offering more time to spend at home has a chance of winning them over. 

Drivers with five to eight years of experience

Drivers in this tenure category are more likely to leave their carriers for another company than drivers in any other category. These mid-career drivers have been in the industry for a while, and they know a competitive offer when they see it. At the same time, these drivers may start to feel undervalued or stagnant in their current roles, especially if carriers do not make efforts to recognize the achievements of their long-term employees. This is an oversight for many carriers due to a stronger focus on recruiting new drivers over retaining current ones.

Pay and equipment were both important factors for this group, suggesting that these folks want a high-quality experience and are willing to make a move in order to get it. 

Drivers with nine to 15 years of experience

The importance of pay reaches an all-time high in this group, with 22% of drivers with between eight and 10 years of experience leaving carriers due to compensation issues. 

“This is where I like to talk about pay fairness. That is something the industry doesn’t talk about,” Fulton said. “We tend to talk about pay in absolute terms, not pay as compared to other companies, drivers with similar experience and new drivers. Often, you hear experienced drivers complain about the fairness of their pay because people are so focused on getting new drivers.”

Fulton notes that experienced drivers often comment on how they haven’t gotten a significant raise in years. At the same time, these folks are watching new drivers get pay increases and bonus packages from basically every carrier out there. When drivers feel chronically undervalued in this way, they are more likely to leave for a higher-paying opportunity.

Drivers with more than 15 years of experience

Drivers who have accrued 15 or more years of experience are starting to think about retirement. These are the most experienced – and often most reliable – folks in any fleet, and carriers should strategize to keep them in the driver’s seat for as long as possible. These drivers aren’t likely to leave for another carrier, but offering them incentives to remain in the workforce could go a long way in holding onto them a little bit longer.

Driver motivations and concerns did not just change among tenure groups, however. Male drivers and female drivers also displayed distinctly different priorities in the exit surveys.

“Pay and management were higher priorities for male drivers. Female drivers had a broader perspective. They talked more about personal and family issues, as well as relationships with dispatchers. They have a stronger tendency to look at the lifestyle of the career, whereas men are less likely to focus on that.” 

Overall, the results of Tenstreet’s analysis point to the importance of looking at drivers as individuals when aiming to bolster retention. These survey results provide a good jumping off point, allowing carriers to consider a driver’s unique position in the company and aim to solve likely ills. Still, carriers should be aiming to have the quality of life conversations with each individual driver if they hope to drive down turnover.

“Driving is such a hard job. I have such a deep respect for drivers,” Fulton said. “They are the skeleton of the American economy, and we owe it to them to ask questions about their quality of life.”

Ashley Coker

Ashley is interested in everything that moves, especially trucks and planes. She covers air cargo, trucking and sponsored content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.