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November 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Turning Your Worst Driver Into Your Best

Transportation directors and driver supervisors can spend up to 50 percent of their working hours on meeting with drivers individually. This personal attention can go a long way toward improving attendance, human relations and job performance.

by Claire Atkinson, Associate Editor

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Occasionally driver supervisors can identify unique ways to address a problem with a driver. Supervisors who have taken the time to get to know staff members can often better address issues as they arise based on their knowledge of the personalities involved.

Thompson describes one such situation with a driver who complained constantly about everything. “Nothing was ever right,” Thompson recalls. “She was an excellent driver, did a great job with her kids, did a great job doing her routes, but everything she saw, nothing was right.” Thompson says she dedicated a lot of time to meeting with this driver and working on her concerns — running the gamut from complaints about other drivers to school district policies and equipment problems — but if they found a solution for one complaint, another would pop up.

“After she’d worked for us about a year, I saw an opportunity,” says Thompson. “I asked her to be a driver trainer and her attitude totally changed.” Thompson realized that this driver was a potential leader who was frustrated with her lack of power to change the situation. Once she was given some degree of control, Thompson says the driver threw all her energy into her new responsibilities as a trainer. “I want people to succeed,” Thompson says. “I’ll bend over backwards to get them to see what needs to be done to have their routes run well and to be happy in their jobs.”

Myers tells of an experience with a driver who had an attendance problem, arriving late or sometimes not showing up for work at all. This driver was also working a second job at night, Myers says. “I was documenting [the absences] because I didn’t think he was going to be able to pull it together,” he recalls. “We gave him lots of chances; he probably had five or six memos. As a driver he was fine; on the road he was fine. With the kids, he was great. But it was basically an attendance issue.”

The situation turned around during Myers’ conversations with the driver about his attendance problems. “It seemed that something was wrong with him. So he went to his doctor and found out he had sleep apnea.” After the driver started receiving medical treatment and quit his night job, he worked for a full school year with no absences, Myers reports. Only a supervisor paying this level of personal attention to each driver will be able to spot this type of special case and avoid the prospect of having to fire a driver and hire a new person to fill the gap.

Transportation directors also tap into the resources available to them through their school district, such as Miami-Dade’s district-wide Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP is a confidential help-line that district employees can call for help with everything from emotional disorders to finding affordable housing. “It’s one of the first things we do when an employee is having trouble getting to work, trouble coping, maybe having trouble with other employees, or trouble with students on the bus,” says Mazie. “We give them the number, and we encourage them to call on their own.”

Supervisors can also ask the EAP to set up a meeting with the employee as a supervisory referral. “Our job is to try to help them cope a little better, support them, and maybe show them some new ways of handling both problems on the job and offer them a couple doors to go through to handle the problems they may have outside of the job,” he adds.

To further his relationship with his drivers as well as to emphasize his open door policy, Mazie also invites drivers and staff to share concerns at informal monthly “town hall” meetings. He encourages drivers to bring up any issue for the group to discuss, demonstrating his interest in creating a well-run department that is supportive of employees.

Individual attention
Transportation directors champion the cause of getting to know their drivers on an individual basis. “As an administrator, you expect to hear the same problems over and over again,” says Mazie. “The most wonderful thing an administrator can do is to keep an open mind and treat each situation as if it’s new.” Mazie explains that expressing genuine interest in a driver’s problems in this manner will not go unnoticed. “The feeling comes across to the person you’re dealing with. The person becomes special and unique. They walk out of there thinking, `They really tried to hear me; I was not prejudged on this.’”

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