Reading the StayMetrics quarterly driver retention chart is almost like a game of hopscotch, jumping from comparison to comparison to discern trends in the data.
The recently released third-quarter report by StayMetrics, which was acquired by TenStreet in November, compiles retention data for drivers hired as far back as July 2019 and as recently as June 2021. There is 365-day data for hires made in June 2020; at the other extreme, there is data for seven-day rates of retention of drivers hired in the final month of the quarter. In between is data for retention rates after 30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 180 and 270 days. The data is for truckload drivers.
The latest 12-month/365-day number, for drivers hired in June 2020, shows that 39.1% of drivers were still with the company that hired them a year earlier. That marked a strong rebound from hires made in the two prior months: 30.6% for April and 34.6% for May.
The peak month during the last year was the 45.6% retention rate for drivers hired in January 2020, which reflects a trend seen in many of the numbers: Driver retention in a period when the uncertainty of the pandemic was highest appears to have been somewhat elevated. The numbers were higher, StayMetrics said in its report, “likely due to the pandemic’s initial effects causing driver uncertainty.”
There is another way to look at the 12-month data: the average number of “days stayed” for all hires from a particular month. The data lists the days stayed averages for each of the months that wrapped up in the last year, so it counts hires that start in July 2019 and end in June 2020, since that provides 12 months’ worth of data.
The latest report from StayMetrics and TenStreet showed that the number of days stayed for drivers hired in June 2020 was just four fewer than for drivers hired in July 2019. Drivers hired in July 2019 stayed, on average, 216 days. For those hired in June 2020, it was 212.
The impact of the pandemic might be visible in the months that had the highest average number of days stayed during those 12 months: 235 in March 2020, hired right at the start of the pandemic. Second on that list was January, with 231 days.
“During the pandemic lockdown, there were very few drivers switching carriers as many carriers’ recruiting and orientations were affected by the lockdown and the uncertainty,” Tim Hindes, the head of StayMetrics, said in an email to FreightWaves.
There were two months when the average days stayed dropped below 200: for hires made in October 2019 and December 2019, long before the pandemic hit.
May 2020 hires, right before the 212 days that wrapped up the year, came in at 200. With a range between 193 and 231, the volatility is significant.
But looking at earlier StayMetrics reports, the latest data clearly signals more recent stability overall in retention. Days stayed between December 2018 and September 2019 averaged 187.9 during that 10-month period. For the 12 months ended in June 2021, the average was 209.5.
Brad Fulton, director of research and analytics for TenStreet, said the swings in the numbers, when translated to actual drivers, are significant.
For example, he said in an email to FreightWaves that the January 2020 “365-Day survival rate” was 45.6%. When it sank to 30.6% for hires made in April 2020, that 15 percentage-point decline is equivalent to three out of every 20 drivers, he said. “From that point of view, a shift of 5 percentage points, one out of every 20 drivers, would be considered by many a big deal,” he said.
“My thoughts are that we are seeing movement but at a slower pace,” Hindes said. “If I look at 2019 stay days vs. now, when drivers switch they aren’t quite as trigger happy in the early days with the new carrier as they historically have been.”
“There are some carriers winning in this market,” Hindes added. “Their peers see that on top of pay they have tremendous perks and support systems in place.”
When a company seeks to build retention through steps other than just throwing money at drivers, and attempts to raise retention levels through things other than money, it’s more challenging, Hindes said. “The problem with this is implementation on cultural initiatives like the ones their peers have had in for years take years to develop and fine tune, so starting from scratch is a conundrum for most carriers who historically would rather buy the pill than change the diet and lifestyle.”
Given the number of ways StayMetrics’ report slices the data — retention data is presented for nine separate durations — picking out what’s important can be challenging.
Fulton said he tells StayMetrics/TenStreet clients that the data for seven days, short though it may be, is a good indicator of the way a company’s retention efforts are progressing. He also likes to point to the 45-day data.
The data on seven days as a whole doesn’t seem to shift much, staying pretty consistent between 96% and 99%. But as Fulton points out, a client’s own data can vary significantly and if it is diverging from the StayMetrics/TenStreet data, it may be a strong signal negatively or positively.
The 45-day mark is important, according to Fulton, because that is when he has his clients’ drivers fill out an Early Experience survey. That number for 45-day retention between June 2020 and May 2021 — a full year — ranged from 79.7% to 90.7%, ending in May at 84.4%, after two consecutive monthly gains.
Other notable numbers in the report:
— There are signs of stronger retention in the 180-day figures (e.g., the percentage of hires who stay 180 days). For four of the six latest months reported — hires made September 2020 through December 2020 — the retention rate was more than 60%, and for hires made in July, it exceeded 70%. For hires made in the 12 months preceding that — July 2019 through June 2020 — the rate was less than 50% four times and barely above 60% just twice.
— To drive home the point that the pandemic might have scared some drivers into hanging on to their jobs, the seven-day rate for drivers hired in March 2020 was 99.6%, the highest on the chart. The 30-day figure, at 95.4%, also was the highest for the 30-day retention rate.
— The significant 45-day rate that Fulton referred to was relatively strong during the past few months. For the last 22 months, it has dropped to less than 80% six times. But for hires made during the most recent seven months, it has been clear of 80% every month.