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February 01, 1999  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Staying Power: Keys to Improving Driver Retention

Job satisfaction is the key to retaining drivers. Treat them with respect, compensate them fairly, show your appreciation - or lose them.

by Gary Luster, Senior Editor

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"One person can be burned out driving buses and another can be just totally excited, ready to go to work every morning and be quite happy about it," Chestnut says. "A lot of that has to do with whether that person is well-suited for that kind of job. Instead of being a bus driver, maybe the person would rather work in an office." Anna Donner, owner of Transportation Compliance Solutions, a consulting firm in Portland, Ore., says most people who drive school buses do it because they like children. But liking children does not preclude them from burnout. Donner says hiring people and training them in dealing with the realities of the job is key. "Many drivers take a job out of desperation, without realizing that it's part time and low wages and only later discover that the money is not enough," Donner says. John Farr, transportation director of Oceanside (Calif.) Unified School District, says that one of the reasons districts are in short supply of drivers is that there isn't enough emphasis on training. Because of the driver shortage, many driver-trainers are out driving routes, leaving little time to train new drivers, Farr says. This, Farr says, accounts for lowered expectations and an influx of drivers who are either unable or unwilling to do the job properly. "If you are constantly in a deficit situation, you have to take whoever walks in the door," Farr says. "Your standards, by definition, have to drop."

Look good, feel good
A driver's self-esteem can affect his job satisfaction. Appearance, for example, can negatively or positively influence a driver's sense of professionalism. One idea that has gained favor in recent years is the implementation of a standard driver uniform. Neal Abramson, assistant director of transportation at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in Santa Monica, Calif., says he favors uniforms. Currently, Abramson's district has a "dress standard" rather than a uniform. "If you're wearing a uniform, students look at the uniform, look at you and they know you're not one of them and sometimes this makes it a little bit easier to earn their respect," Abramson says.

Just don't give up
The key to improving driver retention rates is to find new ways to reward them. It may be necessary to experiment. "We're going to have to come up with some new ideas," Toth says. "We're coming up with things where people are working multiple jobs on site, trying to make it more attractive for drivers to stay and trying to get people out of other areas within the district to become drivers."

How to Gauge Driver Satisfaction
One of the keys to driver retention is job satisfaction. But how do you gauge the level of satisfaction at your operation? An anonymous survey might provide helpful insights. The following questions can be used in a driver satisfaction survey. Other questions specific to your operation can be added. Respondents should be asked to rate the assertions with a score of 1 to 5 with the following scale: 1: Strongly Agree 2: Agree 3: Indifferent 4: Disagree 5: Strongly Disagree

1. Performance expectations and standards have been made clear to me.
2. I feel secure in my job.
3. I believe I am fairly compensated.
4. I have the tools that I need to do my job.
5. I have opportunities for career development.
6. My manager deals with me fairly.
7. I feel I can talk openly with my manager.
8. My manager meets with me regularly to discuss management issues and company policies.
9. My manager listens to my questions/problems.
10. My manager responds to my questions/problems.
11. My manager shows respect for my judgment.
12. I feel I am constantly being watched.
13. My district/company treats its drivers fairly.
14. I have an opportunity to grow professionally at my district/company.

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