Positive morale supports retention, highway safety

Think of this as the feel-good story of the year.

There’s no secret that positive morale plays an important role in any business that wants to retain valuable employees. At the risk of stating the obvious, happy personnel are less likely than their discouraged peers to begin searching for a new job. But fleets which commit to maintaining a positive spirit can also expect other benefits in the form of fewer collisions, improved compliance and reduced downtime.

Consider how these benefits tend to emerge. Every day on the job helps a driver to build the experience that leads to safer decisions behind the wheel. Happy drivers are more focused on individual tasks, and less likely to require days off to deal with health problems relating to stress. The positive vibes even extend to a shipper’s dock, where a satisfied employee will likely be in a better state of mind to address a customer’s most challenging demands.

And like any other valuable commodity, changes in employee morale can be tracked and measured.

Several factors will offer early signs of a souring mood. Increases in turnover or absenteeism, for example, can both be indicators of plunging morale. Longer searches for new employees can often be traced to complaints that drivers are sharing with peers at every local truck stop.

It is even possible to measure the mood itself.

Ongoing feedback about a company’s state of mind can be collected using a number of tools, from a traditional suggestion box to online surveys developed through websites such as Survey Monkey . Managers who use defined forms with numbered scores or simple “yes” and “no” answers will also be able to transform information about the quality of a mood into defined, measureable results.

Face-to-face discussions will play their own role in spotting emerging problems. Many senior fleet managers take the time to call a number of drivers every month, gathering information about the issues that can affect an overall state of mind, and identifying challenges before they infect the wider workplace. Other companies include driver representatives in ongoing management meetings, helping to ensure that they hear a voice behind the wheel when setting any fleet-wide strategies.

Structured roundtable discussions, offered during events such as annual safety meetings or shorter “tailgate” training sessions, provide other opportunities to gauge driver morale. The secret to managing these discussions is to include a scheduled time in the agenda, and to commit to taking specific steps in the search for solutions.

At the very least, the ongoing feedback enforces the idea that employees have a voice.

Departing employees have their own valuable stories to tell. Formal exit interviews can explore the real reasons why people tend to leave a fleet, identifying what worked, what didn’t work, and what departing workers would change about their workplace experiences. Survey Monkey includes a template with 21 questions that measure issues like whether a supervisor’s decisions were reasonable and consistent, and how fairly someone believes they were treated. The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council’s Your Guide to Human Resources (www.truckinghr.com) offers another template that can be used to measure the impact of everything from workplace conflicts to compensation.

The same questions can be used when interviewing new job applicants. Recruiters who take the time to determine why someone left their previous employer, and explore issues that are important to the newest drivers, will be in the best position to set the strategies that will keep new hires on the job.

Of course, even the best moods need to be maintained. Employee morale is something that is cultivated over time, and considers the dynamics of personal relationships. Mentorship programs and cross-training efforts, for example, give peers the tools to answer many challenges as they emerge. Meaningful recognition – whether it comes in the form of an award for employees of the month, service medals, or simply a heartfelt word of thanks – will all build on the positive workplace experience.

But consistent messages and decisions may offer the most important support of all. Few things will destroy morale quicker than differences between the messages delivered by safety teams and operations teams. Issues like these can be addressed through ongoing communication programs which emphasize a company’s commitment to compliance and safety, and ensure that everyone shares the fleet’s vision and values.

The best tools to build morale always come down to giving everyone a voice – and taking the steps to ensure that these voices have positive stories to tell.