Back in the pre-Pandemic days- remember those?- I was at a transportation conference having lunch with a Human Resource director who worked at mid-western US trucking company. I was enjoying learning about the driver health and recruiting and retention challenges in trucking. As you know, they are substantial and complex. Midway through our friendly lunch, the HR director had to excuse herself to take an urgent call. When she returned, she apologized, and it was obvious her mood had changed from upbeat to subdued. I asked if anything was wrong. She said actually it was.
She explained that the call she just took was from one of the carrier’s most valued drivers- a long time employee- a safe and experienced driver. She had hired him years ago and knew him well. He was calling to quit- he had “had it” she said. He was more than frustrated sitting in a Houston traffic jam- feeling his blood pressure rise and his headache increase. He had hardly slept the night before. He was going to be late for a delivery. He had just had a negative interaction with his “*#!@ dispatcher”, and worst of all he was having a heartbreaking family crisis. He had spoken to his wife early that morning who said she was fed up being a “single mom” (or so it felt to her.) She said sick of managing alone (or so it felt to her) the parenting of their two teen sons- one of whom was a special needs child. And doing so while managing their bank account, their household, and even caring for his elderly mother. She needed a fulltime husband she said, and she had insisted he quit his professional driving job and come home… or else. Sitting in traffic in the Houston heat, stewing on the conversation with his wife- he had reached his limit. He had called her to quit. The HR director said, “ Honestly, Norman I always get anxious when one of our veteran drivers calls me directly. This really stressful lifestyle really puts all of them just a phone call away from quitting.”
Afterwards I reflected a lot on her story and comments. Her driver turnover rate was “only” 40% per year. In an industry where many carriers experience 90%+ turnover annually and where a shortage of drivers, particularly safe drivers, is getting worse by the day. She is also in an industry that routinely spends millions of dollars on driver recruitment. But in my experience, she is part of an industry that too often overlooks providing -at a fraction of the cost of recruitment- driver-centric services that address the social isolation drivers face, helps them manage their daily doses of stress, and improves drivers’ wellbeing, health, and work-home life balance.
After that conference, we recognized that many drivers are indeed only a call away from quitting this difficult yet vital occupation. But we knew they could also be only a call away from assistance. We began offering an innovative service called TalkNow, often in combination with our driver-centric Fit To Pass health coaching service that helps drivers stay fit enough to pass their periodic US DOT required medical examinations. Not therapy or counseling per se, just as the TalkNow name implies it gives drivers the opportunity to speak now with a licensed counseling professional 24/7. At the time they need it. Without an appointment and without inconvenience. But with an assurance of confidentiality, privacy, and professionalism. Our TalkNow counselors can steer drivers and their families to helpful resources; help them talk through a sensitive personal issue and problem-solve it; provide an objective counseling professional’s input on a difficult, sensitive, emotion-heavy matter; or just provide a safe place to ventilate or “blow off steam”.
This immediate access to compassionate, trained professionals is not the be all and end all to support work-family life balance and wellbeing for our drivers. But its missing in most benefit plans carriers offer their drivers and their families. And it’s even more inaccessible to Owner Operators- a mainstay of the industry. If you are responsible for supporting the wellbeing of drivers (and avoiding that “one phone call”), today would be a good time to look into a service like