Driver turnover in Q1 started high but rapidly slowed: StayMetrics

Turnover among drivers in the first quarter was like two different worlds, coming in at its normal high in the first part of the period before plummeting as the pandemic started to grip the economy.

That was the conclusion of the quarterly report by StayMetrics, a consulting firm that studies driver retention and helps companies implement retention programs.

The StayMetrics report said the movement in the quarter was a “major shift in the turnover paradigm for the first quarter.” By the end of the quarter, StayMetrics said, turnover was at an “all-time low.”

“Turnover spiked for all truckload sectors before the coronavirus pandemic but not necessarily due to positive economic activity,” the company said in summarizing its findings.

The statistics publicly issued by StayMetrics are snapshots, with the full data available to subscribers.

Some of the shifts are huge. For example, in a survey of 18 flatbed carriers, StayMetrics found that in the third week of January, turnover went to 124.3% from 94.6%, but in the fourth week of February, the turnover rate dropped to 62.9% from 91%. The second week of March saw a jump to 98.3% from 70.2%; by the end of the month, it was down to 57.2%. 

Eric Fuller, CEO of U.S. Xpress, was frank during his company’s earnings call in discussing COVID-19-related turnover. Turnover has always been a particularly large issue for the company. On that call from April 30, Fuller said that in the prior four to six weeks, the truckload carrier had experienced a level of turnover lower than anything it had seen in 10 or more years. That date range would have put it at the end of the first quarter, the period StayMetrics recorded in its data. 

Notably, the dry van segment had extremely low turnover. Even what StayMetrics called a “spike” in unemployment rates in the third week of February took turnover up to 64% from 51%. It dropped back to 53% the following week and held steady through March, the company said. 

In the release disclosing the numbers, StayMetrics CEO Tim Hindes said the numbers should not lull companies into a “false sense of security.” “Fleet executives and managers cannot fall asleep at the wheel,” Hindes said in the statement. “Now is the time to double down on retention efforts.”

The tanker markets also had wild swings. StayMetrics reported that in a survey of eight tanker fleets, the second week of January saw turnover rates of 107.1%. In the third week of January, that dropped to 62.9%. 

The report notes that U.S. production of oil was starting to drop then. That is not true in terms of output, but the nation’s rig count was starting to slide, which would affect tanker rates.

StayMetrics also recorded volatility specifically for oil and gas haulers. In February, the turnover rate for that group jumped to almost 120% from 78% and then stayed well above 100% for three weeks in March before dropping to 68.6% at the end of the quarter. By that time, the price of oil was well into its decline.

The market for reefer drivers was relatively stable. There was a “major spike” in mid-February, StayMetrics said. But after that, with demand for food products soaring, the strong market for food haulers “may explain why drivers in this sector tended to stay with their carriers,” StayMetrics said. “By the end of the quarter, turnover reached a low of 42.6%.”