COO, Duncan and Son Lines, Inc.
I’ve been with Duncan for almost 8 years now. One of the most perplexing things I have observed is the number of “bounce-back” drivers we’ve had. What is a bounce-back driver? It’s a driver who leaves us, but then later decides to come back. Why is this phenomenon perplexing to me? There are a few reasons. All of them beg questions. First, why are truck drivers leaving in the first place? If they are unhappy and they leave, why do they come back? Is there any way for us to get in front of this to keep them from leaving in the first place? I think I’m finally starting to fill in these blanks.
Drivers (and all employees for that matter) can weigh many things when they decide on an employer. And it’s important to note that they choose their employer every single day. These factors (not an all-inclusive list) are what they should consider when deciding where to work: pay, commute, supervisor relationship, co-worker relationships, how rewarding the work is, advancement opportunity, work schedule/flexibility, time off, home time, benefits (med/dental/ancillary), being in-the-know, equipment, work culture, access to senior leadership, etc. Not every employer is a good match for every driver. Companies are seldom going to be good at everything on that list. If a driver really values something that the employer doesn’t excel at, it’s a bad fit. Hopefully the things we’re not good at are low on the totem pole for our drivers- otherwise, they’ll leave. So, what’s the deal with the ones who leave, but then come back? I think there are three main reasons for the bounce-back driver: burnout, a specific pain point, and not considering/ranking everything they value in an employer.
We have drivers leave because of general burnout. We run the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. It’s a great regional gig that gets our drivers home every other night. The downside is the ports themselves. There’s downtime. There’s bad traffic. The port terminal personnel don’t always treat our drivers with courtesy, professionalism, respect and dignity that they deserve. We have drivers who get burned out on port work, quit Duncan, spend some time away and re-charge, then come back with a fresh outlook. We offer some ways for our drivers to take a break from the ports, but they don’t pay as well as running the ports.
Sometimes drivers leave because they have a specific pain point that they are frustrated with. It might be their dispatcher manager relationship, pay, the work schedule, or something else. It eats at them until they find something else. That something else is the promise of greener grass. They make the leap and, often times, solve that problem. Maybe our pay or lane was their issue, so they move to the promise of better pay or a better route. But then they realize that they don’t get home often, or their schedule isn’t flexible, or they don’t connect with the manager. Many bounce-back drivers have expressed that they just traded one pain point for another- or multiple pains.
Drivers also leave because they just didn’t know what they really valued. They didn’t consider all of the factors when choosing which company to drive for. No job is perfect. But they needed to ask themselves if the good outweighed the bad? Generally, these bounce-back drivers got stuck on one or two negative aspects of the job and forgot about the good parts. We are lucky that sometimes their next employer shows them the things we do well by failing at them. Once they start considering all the aforementioned factors- and once they start ranking them by importance- they get a clearer view of what they need to look for in an employer. This is when we bring them back home.
As an employer who competes every day for drivers, the ball is in our court. We need to make sure that our employees know about and consider everything, not just one or two things. We need to celebrate, communicate, and market all the things we’re good at- both internally and externally. We need to be honest and upfront with ourselves, our employees, and potential employees about areas we’re not as good at. We’re not for everyone, and that’s OK. It’s our job to make sure that every day when our drivers decide who they are going to drive for, that they make an educated, well thought out decision.