Sunday, 1 January 2017

Making The Most Out of Weight Loss Challenges

This post appeared in the January 2017 edition of Truck News.

The formula for staying healthy on the road is a simple one. Eat less and exercise more.

I was reminded of this when I crossed paths with Glen at the Pass Lake Flying J, a driver I had worked with at J&R Hall in the past. He’d lost a bunch of weight and was looking fit and happy. He was now running lanes mostly to Virginia and South Carolina that gave him the time to walk for an hour each morning and evening. Glen told me he still ate basically the same food he always had just less of it. Glen had found a formula that worked for him on the road with a carrier that afforded him the time to care for himself.

With another year dawning many of us will be turning our thoughts to weight loss and kicking the nicotine habit. Our intentions are good, we know the change will benefit us, but being tethered to a seat for an average of 12 hours a day simply works against us. The chips, twizzlers, cookies, and cigarettes are a way to pass the time. The tight schedules, limited sleep time, and mental fatigue at the end of the day feed our inability to get out and move. It’s even more difficult for teams that simply never stop moving.

Despite all of that working against us many of us that drive for a living still find a way to break those habits that drag us down and form new ones that are beneficial, but it takes discipline and tenacity.  Sometimes you need a little push, a little encouragement, a little pat on the back, to keep you on track. This is where a carrier can play a leading role.

Step challenges and weight loss challenges have become a staple with a number of carriers of late. We had our first weight loss challenge at J&R Hall take place from September 1 to December 15. At the time of this writing the final results aren’t in but I’m down 25 lbs with just a couple of weeks left in the challenge. Having that weigh in commitment each month was the piece of the puzzle I needed to break my procrastination. Health professionals tell us one of the best ways to develop healthy life choices is to do it in the company of others in order to find that added encouragement and motivation. For the lone wolf driver these challenges help provide that connection.

There is no doubt that for carriers and their employees/owner operators these challenges are a win/win in so many ways. So having nearly completed my first challenge I have some feedback for employers.

First I suggest you create categories for drivers and for inside employees when comparing results and providing rewards for total steps or weight loss percentage over the course of the challenge. Why? Because drivers do not have the option of moving from a seated position for most of their day. Reaching a 10,000 step daily milestone is a huge achievement for an OTR driver. Employees in non-driving positions can hit 20,000 plus steps in a day. With greater activity comes greater weight loss so when involved in weight loss challenges drivers will, on average, lose weight at a slower rate than inside staff. So keeping driver and non-driver results separate allows everyone to compare apples to apples.

Second I suggest you set up a private Facebook group, Google group, or email group for participants in each challenge. It should be loosely structured and allow for participants to share their experience rather than just results. It’s great to find out where other drivers stop to walk or exercise, how they changed their eating habits and so on. Connecting to others across the whole company that face the same hurdles as you do is what builds camaraderie and open communication. That is a winning formula for all.

Technology Should Empower Not Control

This post appeared in the December 2016 issue of Truck News

Sitting in the driver’s seat relaxing after a walk, I was reviewing information gathered by my Fitbit. Noticing the satellite console to my right I was struck by the thought of how these two technologies perform the same function.

Both the Fitbit on my wrist and the satellite that connects my truck simply gather large amounts of data and sort it into meaningful trends that serve as scores and benchmarks to measure my performance.

For those of you not familiar with a Fitbit it is basically a sensor that tracks your heart rate, calorie burn, exercise, sleep, and so on. You wear it in the guise of a wristwatch and see all of the data it gathers displayed on your smartphone or desktop in graphic form for a meaningful picture of your overall health. You don’t have to spend any time measuring or inputting information. No paperwork involved.

The satellite system in my truck performs the same basic function in a similar manner. It gathers information to measure my performance as a driver.

There is a profound difference in how information collected by my Fitbit is used compared to how the information gathered by my trucks performance management software is used even though they are designed to achieve the same result of improving performance. The Fitbit data is immediately available to me in a meaningful form motivating me in the present moment. It is flexible and encourages innovation. The performance management module in my truck is designed as an information source for the carrier in order to manage individual performance. One system empowers, the other controls.

My Fitbit has a far greater impact on my personal health and safety than the system that is designed to manage my on the job performance. This was made evident by something I was not looking for when I started using a Fitbit. Measuring my sleep.

I had convinced myself over the years that I am a five to six hour per night sleeper. That is always the way it has been for me. But seeing my sleep patterns in graphic form each morning had me questioning the quality and length of my sleep in relation to how I have been feeling over the past few years in relation to fatigue. I have not been adjusting my work and rest patterns as I age.  Seeing an analysis of my sleep, its quality and length, on a daily basis helped me to immediately recognize some changes I needed to make to my daily schedule. In just a few short months my average length of sleep increased to almost seven hours per day from less than six. The positive affect on me has been immediate and dramatic.

A little innovation goes a long way. The simple action of making vital information available in a usable format makes innovation possible. We’re not doing that in the cab of today’s truck. Carriers continue to parcel out information as they see fit in the form of policy and enforcement. This is yesterday’s paradigm and not a plan for the future.

One of the great topics of discussion in the trucking sector is how to attract millennials to the driver’s seat. Millennials are always described these days in terms of individuals that want control of their work environment, multi-taskers that foster innovation through interaction. So why are we moving in the opposite direction within the trucking industry? Why is technology used in the truck cab focused on controlling drivers rather than encouraging independence and innovation?

Imagine what a driver could do if the information gathered by todays performance management software were made available in a meaningful format. What gains could be made in fuel management, preventative maintenance, time management, and overall productivity? We need to change the way we share and consume the data that directly affects a driver’s performance. I think it would be an enlightened change. A change that is past due.

Beware The Robo Truckers

This post appeared in the November 2016 issue of Truck News

“Robots Could Replace 1.7 Million Truckers in the Next Decade”. That is a headline from the LA Times on September 25th of this year. The article stated that trucking will likely be the first type of driving to be fully automated because long-haul trucks spend most of their time on highways, which are the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention.

As drivers we have heard it all before. It is all just talk isn’t it? Or is it?

Earlier this year I listened to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), speaking to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  The topic was 5G wireless networks and making expansion of 5G a national priority in order to compete in our increasingly interconnected world. 5G is fiber fast without the cable connection. Think of a surgeon in a virtual reality setting performing surgery on a patient on the other side of the globe in real time. Response times on this network are only 1 millisecond, or 1/1000 of a second. Wheeler outlined how this wirelessly connected powerful processing network, centralized in the cloud, is fully capable of controlling autonomous vehicles, energy grids, utilities, etc.

Wheeler also stated that we have always underestimated the innovation that results from new generation networks, citing the example of the first wireless voice networks (Web 1.0) that were estimated to end up with 100,000 users in the U.S. by the year 2000 and the actual number ended up to be over 100 million.

But it’s all still just talk right? If it is you have to ask yourself why 45% of the jobs in the workforce are now automated according to Andy Stern, author of “Raising the Floor: How a Universal Basic Income Can renew Our Economy and Rebuild the American Dream”. Stern brings together a host of business experts and futurists that support his position that a massive disruption in the economy is pending as a result of automation and it is not being adequately addressed. A tsunami of job losses on the horizon is how Stern describes the near future.

Think of what you have seen in just the past few months even if you follow news in the trucking industry half-halfheartedly. Uber partnered with Ford to start providing driver-less cars to customers in Philadelphia to test their driver-less systems. This starts to normalize the public acceptance of autonomous vehicles. Volvo has fully operational autonomous vehicles in European mining operations. Truck News reported last month on the platooning technology that is being put into use in Europe and in September of this year Michigan State Senate approved a law allowing trucks to drive autonomously in “platoons”. Several other states have this legislation in place also.

Those examples are but a small taste of how automation, which has been met with scorn in many driver circles, is on the brink of exponential growth. So the claim of replacing 1.7 million drivers in the next decade is not a pipe dream. It’s a reality we need to face as professional drivers, or at least the 50% of us that won’t be retired by 2025. Do not forget that driver wages represent approximately one third of the costs companies pay to move freight down the road. Reducing that cost is one of the primary goals of business. Drivers need to stop thinking that there are only two options on the table, those being a fully automated world with no drivers or the world as it is with a driver in every vehicle. The simple answer is we don’t know exactly how things will play out but the fact that fewer human beings will be required to move freight down the road in the near future is obvious.

Absent from this is how the trucking industry is going to act as millions of middle income jobs come under threat. As a driver you should be thinking deeply about this and developing a contingency plan of your own.

Let's Talk About Mental Health

This Post Appeared in the October 2016 edition of Truck News

I have something difficult to share. A driver that I had run down the road with several times over the years and had come to know as another one of the hard working decent guys that are the mainstay of the Canadian trucking industry took his own life in early August. None of us that knew him as I did saw it coming. That’s why I have decided to share a few thoughts about something we rarely discuss in this industry, mental health.

I don’t have any expertise whatsoever in the field of mental health so I’m not trying to provide any answers or solutions to the stresses we face as drivers. But I do know how I feel every Saturday morning when I pack the car in preparation for another 5 days on the road and then kiss my wife good-bye. We need to have a conversation about that.

It’s not easy just getting through the day. Anxiety, anger, and feelings of depression find fertile ground to fester and grow in the mind of a long haul driver. For me, it is a constant struggle to keep the opposing forces of my work life and my personal life in balance. It is my love/hate relationship with trucking and a constant source of stress in my life. I love being out on the road but it keeps me away from the one person I care about the most while at the same time providing financial security and stability for us both. Life is difficult.

Trucking is indeed a great life to live as you explore the country and the continent with the added bonus of getting paid well to do it. For some individuals this lifestyle is all they ever need, it fulfills their one great passion in life. They are the lucky ones. But if the high turnover rate of drivers in this business is any indicator they are also a minority. At some point in a driving career you must grapple with the question, is there more to life than just rolling down the road? That feeling is all about the need for companionship and stability. Those feelings run strong in me and probably in the people that find they can’t continue to live on the road despite how much they may enjoy the trucking life.
In the macho world of trucking we don’t talk about our feelings. It’s a sign of weakness to the male ego. We bottle up those feelings and put them on the shelf. That’s been the story for my generation. That’s probably why we accept the authoritarian structure in this industry without question and continue to wear hardship as a badge of honour. That’s what real men do.

Of course nothing could be further from the truth. We all know we work in an industry that is classed in the top 10 when it comes to physical danger. But what about the dangers we face mentally and emotionally. The personal example I shared of the big stressor I face every day is but one example of the thousands of mental stressors that haunt a driver as he or she rolls down the road. The common thing all drivers share is the time alone factor and the long hours of uneventful driving time that the mind has to play with.

How mental health affects a drivers daily life is yet another topic that is not addressed in any type of ongoing training program for drivers. The hazards we face in our mental work environment are every bit as dangerous as the hazards we face in our physical environment.

Let’s Talk. That has been the rallying cry for the past few years in encouraging people to talk about their mental health issues especially surrounding depression. It’s something we face as drivers on a daily basis even if we don’t recognize it as such. So Let’s Talk.

Why Drivers Need to Keep an Open Mind

This post appeared in the September 2016 edition of Truck News

For some, social media is like chocolate cake, you just can't get enough. Algorithms tailor our social media news feeds to surround us with the sweet taste of our own ideas and beliefs. But that sweet fatty diet is poison to us in the long run. Our bodies need variation in our diet with a focus on healthy foods to stay healthy over the long term. We need to apply those same rules to our media diet. By consuming only the sweet memes and the tasty click-bait, we poison our mental environment that in turn affects our ability to think clearly and objectively about the issues important to us.

The debate raging around electronic logging devices, or ELD’s, is a case in point. On one side we have the opinion that ELD’s are an invasion of our personal rights and freedoms so should not be mandated. On the other side the argument is made that road safety hinges on ALL trucks having these devices in place thereby leveling the playing field by making sure that everyone is playing by the same rules. There does not seem to be any middle ground in this debate yet most drivers fall between these two extremes. All drivers must keep a daily log of their activity, there is no debate over that point. Large corporate carriers insist on increasing their technological presence in the cab using invasive technology and independent drivers insist on maintaining paper logs that can easily skirt the letter of the law. Both sides pay lip service to the core issues of public safety and driver safety by building an echo chamber to their cause through social media.

This is not an issue that has only two sides. In today's connected world drivers need the data that technology provides to protect their rights and their safety more now than ever. They do not need legislation to ram it down their throats. Drivers need education and training. The legislation should be focused on protecting a driver’s privacy not solely on a corporation’s right to impose practices that benefit their bottom line. There is a middle road and it is about ethics and morality not about the law.
For six years I have been using an ELD. It has brought benefits to both the company I work for and for myself. It has not hampered my ability to earn a living. I run just under 3,000 miles every week (5 days) in both Canada and the USA. The company has been able to use the data it captures to provide an incentive program that has not only increased profits for the company but has provided additional income for the majority of its drivers. We are one of the few companies our size that maintains the highest CVOR rating available for the past 3 years running and has also been voted one of the top ten companies to work for in Canada by its drivers, also for 3 years running. Is this because an ELD law has been mandated? Of course not. It is because of the honesty and integrity the owners bring to the table. Drivers are partners in the business not tools of the trade. Technology has been and continues to be incorporated in a way that is beneficial to all. Are there growing pains? Yes. Could these gains have been made operating in a digital world with paper logs and no technology to capture the data that guides that ethical decision making? Of course not.

I agree wholeheartedly that as drivers we need to band together to speak out against the imposition of technology that focuses solely on the financial return to the corporate investor at the expense of the health and well-being of the individual driver. I do not support legislating ELD’s across the board. The small independent trucker has increasing access to technology to compete in today’s market just as any other small business person does. Government should be making sure that that access remains open and is expanded to entrepreneurs by not imposing costly fixes that benefit only the large corporations. If independent truckers want to continue to operate with analog systems like paper logs in the digital world that we live in then let them. In another decade this business practice will dry up as so many manual systems have. They will not be cost effective and will not provide the information needed to compete in the modern marketplace.

We need an educated well informed driver pool to make sure this industry remains healthy not just for the driver but for the companies we work for and contract our services to. Drivers need to diversify their sources of information and refrain from making decisions based on internet memes, sound bites, and headlines. Open your mind, research opposing opinions, engage in friendly debate and ask why, why, why. The health of our industry depends on it.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

It's easy to get down on yourself when your out on the road on a long weekend that celebrates family. But all it takes is a short conversation with the person you are most thankful to have in your life to put the world back into order.

When I'm out on the road I call my wife Debbie every evening. It's the daily phone call that puts any fears to rest that a trucker's partner must live with and puts this truckers mind at ease knowing that all is well on the home front.

But last night was special. Debbie was looking after our two grandchildren, Nate, 5 years old, and Morgan age 3. Debbie told me that they decided to play "baby bears" at one point during the day and needed Grandma to help them build a cave. The cave is always constructed of pillows, blankets, cushions off the furniture and so on. The two bears then decided it was time to search for food to store away for the winter. Taking that cue my wife put some treats in paper muffin cups and hid them throughout the house for the "bears" to find and gather for the winter. When all the food had been gathered it was time to sit in the cave and picnic on the spoils.

The two little bears told Grandma that they should come to Grandma's house every Saturday now and play this game. Ha ha ha!

I'm thankful for the incredible support I receive from my wife day in and day out. It is so easy to become centered on your own daily challenges when you live on the road as a trucker. But that partner we have at home deals with all the stresses of separation that we endure on the road and the worry of the hazards we face that are completely beyond their control. But more importantly a truckers partner fills the void the trucker leaves behind every week playing duel roles of mother AND father or grandmother AND grandfather.

So last nights phone call to home exemplified the love we share in our home. I'm so incredibly thankful for my wife and all the love and life we have shared together over the past 37+ years and I'm so thankful there are many years of sharing yet to come. I couldn't do this job without her by my side.

Monday, 12 September 2016

No, No, No

Who knew?
Drivers can eliminate paperwork and run by the book, while fleets save time and money through automation. ELDs can put drivers and dispatchers on the same page when it comes to planning. For instance, they can both see why it makes sense to send the driver to the shipper the night before so his waiting time can be done off-duty.

Above is a paragraph taken from a column written by a member of the trucking industry but a non-driver. I have provided the link below to the full article.

Sending a driver to the shipper the night before making a delivery in order to log the waiting time off duty goes to show the complete lack of understanding of a drivers responsibilities and challenges that they face in this profession.

This is a typical response of Industry insiders that do not work within the confines of a truck cab.

I think I will just leave it at that and allow any discussion on this to go where it may.