A 2017 study published in the Transportation Journal gives insight into truck driver woes with a rigorous phenomenological research approach. What does that mean, exactly? These authors went straight to the source and talked to truck drivers about what phenomena cause them stress.
Using this qualitative research methodology, they were able to gather data in two ways: face-to-face interviews with truck drivers and online blogs. Sixty-one participants were asked to describe their experience as a truck driver, and their interviews were transcribed so the researchers could easily find statements about how drivers handle their job. These statements were grouped into themes or categories that became the findings for the study relating to the essence of the truck driver experience.
Being a truck driver is a grueling and often thankless job. Time away from home and family, poor pay and a generally unhealthy lifestyle make it an unattractive career. Recent statistics from the American Trucking Associations show turnover rates were in excess of 90 percent last year, and with the projected growth of demand, the industry is going to experience a painful shortage in the upcoming years. The number of truck drivers leaving the industry is skyrocketing, and new drivers are not there to backfill the void.
Because almost every finished good eventually ends up on a truck, this is a far-reaching problem that hits almost every industry. Here are a few of the types of psychological stress found in the study:
- Truck drivers experience loneliness and isolation. They also experience health issues that go unaddressed because of inadequate healthcare options, uncertainty about where to find affordable care and tight delivery windows while on the road. Being away from home and an overall unhealthy lifestyle take a tremendous emotional and physical toll.
- A multifaceted issue, truck drivers feel disrespected by car drivers on the road, customers, dispatchers and managers. While some might say that drivers should not take all the animosity personally, the fact is that they do. They feel they are being slighted as human beings, and that the truck-driving profession is snubbed and met with disdain.
- The most challenging piece of the puzzle seems to be the regulatory environment. While most drivers understand the intent behind many of the regulations, they often feel stress-related burdens regarding their pay, eligibility to drive and being told how to do their job. Safety is the intent behind most regulations, but drivers feel that the reality is very different.
The findings in this research are timely. This past December, the Electronic Logging Device rule went into effect. These ELDs are automatically logging the hours of the truckers, and experts are already predicting increased costs for transportation. When it costs more to move products, the increase in transportation cost will eventually be passed on to consumers in cost of goods. The research team plans to conduct a follow-up study in the near future on the psychological stress related to these new ELD rules.
What are the implications of these truck-driver stressors to business and to consumers? Consumers need truck drivers. They need the products that truck drivers deliver, and consumers want them in a timely manner. Many companies today are working to improve the truck driver experience in a number of ways such as providing different routes, improving compensation or providing well-being resources. For their part, consumers can improve the experiences of truck drivers as well by being more aware of these stressors and by promoting a more respectful driving experience.