One of the key takeaways from the market churn caused by the pandemic and other recent supply chain disruptions is that it takes more than a fat paycheck to attract and retain workers today. That’s particularly true of the up-and-coming “generation Z” workers, who view compensation as much more than just salary and health benefits. These next-generation workers say that while cold, hard cash is nice, what they really value is a job with “soft” benefits—that is, a position where they have a chance to make a social impact, be part of a group mission, have flexible schedules, and be treated with respect.
And if you don’t deliver the soft benefits, those workers won’t stick around. With unemployment levels at a half-century low, they can find a new job at the drop of a hat. That has already affected HR practices at businesses across the country, and nowhere is it more true than in supply chain jobs—and specifically the trucking sector.
Recent statistics from the transportation industry consulting and accounting firm American Truck Business Services (ATBS) show that company drivers earn $65,430 on average, with salaries reaching as high as $93,000 for the top 10%. Those numbers can go even higher for owner-operators and drivers hauling specific types of freight.
Not bad, right? But a study by DAT Freight & Analytics reveals that 75% of truck drivers say their job is mentally and physically stressful. Some follow-up questions in that survey, which was conducted among 504 truck drivers (337 of whom own the truck they drive), shed light on the reasons why: Drivers miss out on time with friends and family (54% of truck drivers spend less than 24 hours a week at home); they work long hours (33% of drivers are driving more than 49 hours a week); and they find it difficult to eat a proper diet (37% eat fast food two to three days a week) and get enough sleep.
Those of us who earn a living sitting at a keyboard rather than behind a steering wheel can dodge most of those challenges. But as a sedentary office worker myself, I made a long drive this summer that was a rude reminder of how tough it is out on the road—count me among the 75% who felt that mental and physical stress.
To be fair, I got myself into this jam. It started when I volunteered to pick up furniture and books from a family member who was selling her house, deliver them to another relative, then complete the loop and return home. My trip would have been laughably simple to a professional driver: Drive a rented U-Haul van 400 miles from Boston to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; load it up with boxes; make a delivery stop 200 miles away in Binghamton, New York; unload the boxes; and drive 250 miles back to Boston. But with those 850 miles compressed into two days, it took all my strength and focus to stay safe and on schedule.
Call me a wimp, but as the saying goes, “You couldn’t pay me enough” to do that for a living. My complaints were legion: The rental vehicle drifted all over the road, my smartphone wouldn’t sync to the dashboard, commercial radio stations play repetitive pap, there’s nothing to eat and nowhere to pee, my legs were cramped, I was sleep-deprived, the load in the trunk would occasionally shift, and other drivers would swerve as they stared at their phones.
By now, you can almost hear my whining come through the pages of this magazine, and maybe that trip pushed me over the threshold to officially become a Grumpy Old Man. But my hat is off to the professional truckers who endure those conditions every time they show up for work.
In the words of Jeff Hopper, chief marketing officer at DAT: “Many truck drivers develop strategies to manage the long hours, isolation, and health issues that come with the job. However, finding suitable places for sleep, healthy meals, and other necessities are constant challenges. It’s essential to recognize the role truckers play in our economy and to do whatever we can to recognize their hard work.”Just remember that recognition is about more than just a fat paycheck.