Unlike the National fleet, the upside of being on a regional or local fleet is that you work, primarily, with one dispatcher. The downside is that this dispatcher might be difficult to work with. My experience in trucking has given me the opinion that the relationship between many drivers and dispatchers is often of the love/hate variety-minus the love in several cases.
I believe the main reason for the “us” versus “them” attitude stems from a lack of communication between drivers and dispatchers, and a lack of understanding of one another’s respective roles. I will be the first to admit that this consideration did not factor into my thinking early on. In many cases, an unhappy driver is simply the result of a lack of understanding of the office structure, policies, and the role of key people in the company. Two-way communication and mutual respect are imperative in a successful relationship between drivers and dispatchers, and it is necessary for the retention of experienced drivers to a company.
I failed to understand early in my trucking career that most dispatchers do not willingly aspire to villainous acts. The job of a freight dispatcher, especially in a large company, is one of the most stressful jobs in America. Not only are they juggling the scheduling and progress of multiple trucks while constantly resolving problems that emerge, they listen to the gripes, threats, and choice words of drivers on a daily basis. On top of this, precious few dispatchers are afforded proper stress management training. They are, mostly, just thrown into the fire. In general, becoming a freight dispatcher requires no further education beyond a high school diploma. It just requires the ability to use a computer, the ability to multi-task, and an extremely high tolerance for stress.
I believe the key ingredient in a driver’s success and happiness with a company starts with an understanding of, and communication with, his or her dispatcher. Nobody will have more influence over a driver’s success than a dispatcher.
Most dispatchers identify poor communication as a primary cause of stress. Many drivers are quick to identify their dispatcher as a “bonehead”, but are slow to seek two-way communication. As a driver, I know that the stresses of the road are numerous and real, and it is easy to be caught up in a self-centered mindset. I once even heard another driver comment, “The dispatcher is there to serve us… not the other way around.”
Wrong! The dispatcher is there to serve the needs of the company.
Dispatching is a sedentary job but, having worked in a sedentary job, I know that mental and emotional stress can be just as debilitating as physical stress. This stress leads many dispatchers, like drivers, to have an abysmal diet. Fast food, fried foods, and vending machine junk are often the standard fare seen in a dispatch office. At a former company, I once noticed a bulk tub of antacid tablets nestled snugly in the bottom drawer of my driver manager’s desk. I have little doubt that I caused him to gobble more than a few of them.
A dispatcher is under constant pressure from his terminal manager to move freight, and a terminal manager is under constant pressure from company executives to keep his terminal productive and running smoothly. Unfortunately, this often translates into a perception of an uncaring or unfeeling attitude in the eyes of a driver. A driver needs to educate himself on the basic operation of his company and on the roles of some of the key people in it. Nevertheless, as I said before, communication is a two-way street. The dispatchers, terminal managers, and the company as a whole needs to consider the drivers, without whom money would not come into the company.
When I was in orientation at my first company, a newly hired dispatcher was inserted into class with the drivers. When one of the drivers asked him why he was there, the new dispatcher replied, “They wanted to put me in here so I could learn what you guys go through.”
I was fresh out of CDL school, so I did not respond but, among some of the experienced drivers, a number of lower jaws collectively banged to the floor.
“If you want to learn what we go through,” inserted a shocked driver, “you need to go on the road with us. You’re not going to learn anything sitting in here.”
This was a prime example of “Let’s watch a rodeo to understand cowboy life” thinking. You might as well watch a Three Stooges skit with Moe playing the role of Adolf Hitler to understand the nature of World War II. A true cross-familiarization program would consist of ride-alongs by dispatchers, and time spent in a dispatch office by drivers. I can only assume that most companies do not consider this to be a cost effective practice but, in adhering to this line of thinking, they fail to recognize that familiarity breeds mutual respect.
Drivers and dispatchers, by virtue of their mutual ignorance of one another’s working environment, each formulate strong opinions about the other. It doesn’t matter if these opinions are correct, but by allowing them to formulate and take hold, it often creates a negative work environment. In many cases, a negative relationship between a driver and a dispatcher is the fault of neither one of them. Rather, the company that is content to maintain a revolving door policy concerning its drivers deserves the finger of blame.
It never ceases to amaze me that many trucking companies cannot seem to grasp the simple concept that a truck driver desires to be treated like a human being rather than a truck number on a computer monitor. It is easy to forget that these numbers represent men and women who have lives and families outside of that truck, and they deserve to live them like anyone else. Do they really think that a long-haul driver can cram his personal life into four to six days a month at home?
Repeatedly, home time is cited as the number one reason why drivers quit. Recruiters often misrepresent the amount of home time that a driver will be afforded, and this dishonesty often leads to short-term employment. Nothing makes me feel more insignificant, as a driver, than a company giving me the impression that a load of freight is more important than I am.
A standard industry response for not getting a driver home when requested might be: “Freight is slow. Be flexible until the freight situation allows us to route you home.”
The person or people who provide such a response spend(s) an average of 420-480 hours per month at home with their families. A long-haul driver spends an average of 96-144 hours per month at home. How much to they expect us to “flex?” Most of us are already at the breaking point by the time our home request rolls around. If a company is unable to follow through on its promises of home time, they should not offer it as a hiring incentive. I am willing to be flexible in most areas, but when I feel that a company has little or no consideration for my need to live a personal life outside their truck, that company can summarily kiss my inflexible buttocks.
Dispatchers and trucking companies need to understand that drivers are real, live human beings rather than just a truck number. Likewise, drivers need to understand that dispatchers and managers have a specific job to do, and they are under a lot of pressure just as we are. A dispatcher has the unenviable task of piecing together a huge jigsaw puzzle, and the driver is only privy to his or her small portion of it. While communication will not resolve all issues, it will go a long way toward providing a better understanding and developing a mutual respect. It is not a matter of kissing the dispatcher’s or manager’s behind, it is just a matter of opening a line of professional communication with them.