TIme for operators to find a new way to work?

Is the long hours culture of coach operation likely to be attractive to future bosses? It’s unlikely, argues our expert, who adds that it’s time for operators to start to work smarter – and pay themselves more

If you speak to a fellow operator or look at the numerous industry social media sites, the topic of driver shortage is never far from the discussion.

But a shortage of operators? It’s never really considered. But the two are intrinsically linked.

When a driver falls ill or doesn’t fancy coming to work, especially in a small family business it is usually the person with his or her name on the O-Licence who misses their mother-in-law’s birthday party.

Pay yourself enough

Like many coach companies, ours is a longstanding one spanning generations. But I genuinely think that my generation could be the last for a lot of operators.

Our fathers wore the ridiculous number of hours they worked as a badge of honour. Their fathers did 15 hours in one job, had a quick wash and then spent a full day driving.

Me? I do it because I must, to keep the business profitable and to allow us to invest in coaches that depreciate faster than you can say Working Time Directive.

Do I want my own children to invest the same time and effort as me? Probably not, because as well as the long hours and sleeping with the phone by your bed, most operators don’t pay themselves enough. When our accountants looked at my salary, they told me that for a company of our turnover, I should receive double what I do earn. I’m still waiting for that pay rise.

No emotional attachment

My wife, a smart woman with her own career, advises from a purely pragmatic and business-minded perspective. She sees things in black and white, without an emotional attachment or the ‘we have always done it this way’ attitude that sometimes clouds our views and judgment.

I have started to take proper holidays, not work every weekend and cut out the 0300hrs airport runs that nobody else wants to do. Amazingly, the wheels haven’t fallen off. When I return home, everything seems, in the main, to run well.

Technology allows us to work remotely and know where our vehicles are and that drivers are safely at home without us waiting at the depot. I strive to give drivers a fair work/life balance. But that should not be at the cost of our own. There are some great examples of companies that have recruited from outside their own families or industry bubble, have grown massively and are now impressive corporate machines.

But lots of us still operate traditional family firms. For us to survive and thrive, we all need to work smarter and find ways to do less and get paid more. Our children won’t want to invest the same amount of time that we do, and who can blame them? It doesn’t say on gravestones that you worked 70 hours per week. Just your name and your dates.

Do you agree or disagree with our expert? Have your say by emailing editorial@divcom.co.uk