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  • Writer's pictureARI Media

Looking back at the Year of the Truck Driver

There is little question that 30 years from now, when schoolchildren learn the history of 2020, the COVID-pandemic will be discussed. History books will record how doctors, nurses, teachers, retail workers and other essential workers played a critical role in caring for and supplying those in need.

Add truck drivers and transportation workers to that list as well. For those in the industry, this has never been in dispute, but in 2020, the general public finally recognized the importance of the supply chain.

“I think the general public has taken a [peek] into the supply chain this year because what was always a given — being able to go to the story and get what you need — was not this year,” Max Farrell, co-founder and CEO of WorkHound, told FreightWaves. “Logistics has been a key cog in the success of the country this year and people have recognized that it can have life-or-death consequences. I’m hopeful the positivity for the industry continues. I think the industry has done a good job in capitalizing on its moment.”

WorkHound offers frontline workers a voice in their work environments. Started for the logistics industry, the company now offers communication platforms that collect real-time, anonymous feedback for businesses in trucking and health care, as well as frontline workers and remote workforces. As it has done since its founding, WorkHound has been collecting input from truckers and providing that anonymized information to employers to help them address areas of concern.

Farrell spoke with FreightWaves to discuss how 2020 has been – in the words of truck drivers.

“Something that did stand out among drivers was pride,” Farrell said. “Drivers recognized the sense of duty around the purpose they played in keeping the country moving during a concerning time for all of us. And the recognition that was happening from the general public was being noticed.”

In April, WorkHound’s platform collected nearly 3,300 comments from drivers, with nearly 23% of them mentioning the coronavirus. But in the ensuing months, the number of comments mentioning the pandemic started to decline.

“Everyone loves recognition; that’s just a tendency that all people crave,” Farrell said. “But if you look at the data, especially in the months of the second quarter, the pride data [we were collecting] was becoming, ‘I’m just doing my job.’”

By the time WorkHound’s Q3 report was released, COVID, while still mentioned, was no longer a dominant theme, replaced by more traditional driver concerns such as home time, compensation, people and communication.

Farrell said the pandemic actually had a positive impact on employer communications.

“[Companies] started to be much more honest about the health of their business,” he said. “Many companies thrived during this and had record months, while others had to shut down because they lost customers.”

Farrell added that companies had to change the way they communicated, and many became proactive about transmitting time-sensitive information to drivers.

“I think that is one of the most uplifting things we’ve seen this year. Companies did a really great job seizing the moment and realizing we have to [do the job] in being the driver’s co-pilot,” he said.

That communication, coupled with social-distancing guidelines, caused disruption among fleets when it came to training drivers. Many adjusted, Farrell said, noting one carrier that typically brought drivers to Minnesota for on-site training realized it could no longer do that, so it created a virtual program.

“I think you are going to see many companies permanently evolve how they work,” Farrell said. “I remember early on there were companies that only did their orientation in one specific part of the country. … [Now] I see where companies are looking to do more frequent communications and more virtual communications to be more proactive in how they interact with their people.”

Driver pay is always an issue that garners a lot of mentions in WorkHound surveys, and 2020 has been no exception. Many fleets have announced record pay increases this year, but Farrell said the pay equation isn’t always about the total compensation package – it’s around communicating and understanding pay structures, he said.

“I think companies have gotten better about communicating new information faster as we get it, but what we continue to see … is pay confusion [and complexity] that creates confusion among drivers,” he said.

WorkHound’s Q3 survey found that of drivers who said pay would cause them to leave a company, 31% of those cited “complications with pay.” Among these are complex pay structures or systems, routinely needing to complete time-consuming requests to get inaccurate paychecks corrected and long wait periods to have payment issues sorted out, if they are fixed at all.

One driver noted he had received the incorrect compensation in four of his previous five paychecks.

Fleets are also becoming better at recognizing driver burnout, Farrell said.

“We’re seeing more companies understand the impact that driver burnout can have on their turnover and culture,” he said. “We do see that it is solvable if companies take care of their people and get ahead of their issues and [address] their concerns.”

Farrell also said that he thinks companies have a better understanding of driver needs and concerns, and that goes to destigmatizing mental health as well.

“Companies are becoming more emphatic in how they take care of this person on their team instead of just taking care of employee number X,” he said. “I think the industry evolved to where companies became better versions of themselves to take care of their people.”

Farrell noted that WorkHound surveys don’t collect only negative comments. In fact, about one-third of all feedback on the platform would be considered positive, and the remainder is split between negative and neutral feedback.

“Oftentimes it’s about how someone likes working with a fleet manager or the company and its culture. And that needs to be recognized,” he said.

As 2020 quickly heads for the rearview mirror, it may be remembered as much for the truck driver as it was COVID.

“While 2020 was a [difficult] year for all of us, it was a positive moment for trucking as a positive light was shined on the industry,” Farrell said.

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