Schuster’s Driving Wellness Program Hits the Road -- Driving Wellness Image.

According to, 15.5 million commercial trucks and 2 million tractor-trailers criss-cross America’s highways, covering 433 billion miles annually.

Erica Wenzel (Director of Human Relations and Worksite Wellness at the Iowa-based trucking firm, Schuster Company) emphasizes it’s a tough job.“Cross-country trucking presents great challenges to healthy lifestyles. Besides being away from their homes and families for extended periods, drivers must deal with constant loneliness and the stress of navigating through busy traffic day after day in a big rig. Wellness strategies that work in other businesses might not work for us.”

Supporting Employees and Families

Schuster employs over 300 company drivers who travel through 48 states and Canada, covering over 42 million miles a year. Drivers are often gone as long as 7-10 days. Erica has been with Schuster for many years, witnessing the firm’s sincere interest in supporting employees — especially the drivers. “Our president Steve Schuster has a heart bigger than all outdoors. We once had a driver out on the road and someone very important to him died unexpectedly. We set everything aside and went to great lengths, at some financial sacrifice to the company, to get him back as quickly as possible. It speaks to how Mr. Schuster feels about his drivers. When someone faces a family emergency or crisis, we do whatever is necessary to connect the driver with his family.”

Courtney Clark (onsite Wellness Coordinator and HR Assistant) praises the company dispatchers’ role in identifying a driver who has reached his limits: “They’re our front line in picking up cues that a driver in the field is getting edgy and encourage him to go home for a while to unwind and refresh.”

Courtney describes 2 popular company policies to help drivers deal with the isolation that comes from being on the road. “We offer a ‘ride along’ program that allows drivers to bring a family member with them on a trip. Besides keeping the driver company, the experience helps family members understand what the job entails and how hard it is. We also have a pet policy, which the drivers especially appreciate. It’s a lonely job, so allowing them to bring a companion is a huge deal.”

Trying to maintain positive work/life balance is especially hard for truckers. Courtney explains social media’s important role in helping families stay connected. “We post company activities, pictures, articles, and health tips on our Facebook page. Employees and their spouses discuss health successes, concerns, and questions. We even have a special wives’ page on Pinterest. They share ideas on such things as food items to pack for the in-cab refrigerator while on the road or how to save money to invest in their family 401(k).”

Family-oriented benefits/activities include:

  • Special anniversary and birthday cards to the home signed by the president, vice president, and department manager
  • Annual family picnic
  • Annual golf outing
  • Halloween trick or treating through the office and shop for employees’ children and grandchildren
  • Annual office Christmas party
  • Annual drivers’ (and spouses) banquet
  • Family bowling night.

Erica outlines some of Schuster’s community outreach activities: “We make weekly donations to United Way and participate in many of their events. Our president was chairperson of the Iowa Motor Truck Association a few years ago and we continue to do a lot in the areas of leadership and mentoring. Each year we adopt a local family in need and provide gifts from their Christmas Wish List. Employees even contribute out of their own pocket to help; they really enjoy seeing their efforts benefit the less fortunate.”

Attracting and Retaining Quality Employees

Erica notes there is a real shortage of qualified truckers, so it’s important for Schuster to attract, train, and keep the best drivers. “We require a new employee to have at least a year over-the-road experience when we hire them. However, if an otherwise qualified candidate does not have the necessary experience, we offer them the opportunity to ride with our trainers for a time. Not only do they get to hone their driving skills, but they also learn how to deal with other issues like working the docks and dealing with customers.”

Courtney mentions other career-enhancing opportunities at Schuster: “I started out as an intern during my last semester of college and was offered a position when I graduated.” Erica adds, “We encourage employees to learn as much as possible about the entire organization through cross-training. As they learn about the industry they become better, more engaged employees.”

Other company benefits include:

  • Anniversary gift program
  • Paid time off
  • Health, vision, dental, and life insurance
  • 401(k) match
  • Onsite bank representative visits for private consultations
  • Retirement preparation for 55+ employees
  • Annual longevity bonus after 5 years of employment
  • Annual Christmas bonus
  • Recruiting bonus for referral of new drivers (up to $1250).

Initiating a Wellness Program

A recent series of health-related events among some senior members became the driving force behind implementing Schuster’s formal wellness program in 2014. Erica recalls, “Unfortunately, they experienced serious health-related issues and are now very limited in what they can do. Not only were these employees forced to leave the trucking field, but they cannot enjoy the quality retirement life that our company president and the rest of us would like to see. Mr. Schuster sincerely wanted better than that for us. This led us to look at our health claims to identify which challenges were the hardest to overcome. In addition to our research and a company-wide biometrics screening, we surveyed the drivers to find out what they thought were their biggest issues. We compiled all the data and identified the target areas.”

With drivers constantly on the road, the logistics of doing a company-wide health risk assessment and biometrics screening were daunting. Courtney laughs, “It was like shooting at a moving target. Other companies could run everyone through in 1 day. But our third-party vendor had to schedule the screenings over 9 days spanning 6 weeks, at times when we knew the greatest number of drivers come through our northwestern Iowa terminal. Coordinating all this took a lot of work with our dispatchers, who lined up the loads and got drivers through when they needed to be here. Even then, there was a lot of rescheduling. When all was said and done, we had 76% participation in our initial launch — and now offer free coaching calls for identified health risks.”

Schuster has 5 onsite employees and 5 driving fleet members as wellness liaisons from all the departments. The driver representatives have been particularly helpful in reaching out to their peers.

Ongoing Challenges and Solutions

The next goal for Erica was to address employee wellness obstacles. “We contacted our vending machine providers and asked them to switch out their product selection to include at least 30% healthier alternatives at lower prices. We had an instructor work with each department to teach stretches to limber up throughout the day. Now, we offer free onsite YMCA classes plus free resistance bands and training with custom video instruction for drivers while on the road. At other times anyone can check out free YMCA passes and go to a nearby fitness facility. Onsite presenters provide handouts for employees who can’t be there. Employees walk together on our nearby walking trail. We even bring in fruit to all departments twice a week. A lot of things are changing around here.”

Tobacco use was a significant challenge; Schuster chose a phase-out approach. Courtney remembers the need to minimize culture shock. “Smoking is pervasive in the trucking industry. We started out with a 46% smoking rate and knew if we just banned smoking, we would lose a ton of drivers. Changing the whole culture needed to be gradual. We went from having no company policy to allowing smoking in only 1 location on the entire campus and in personal vehicles. We provide free tobacco cessation information packets with nicotine replacement gum. And Schuster designates smoking or nonsmoking trucks for the drivers to choose.”

Courtney has been careful not to overwhelm the employees. “So many tell me, ‘I just don’t know what to eat. Just tell me and I’ll do it.’ The majority have email accounts, so we’ll send out quick wellness tips, such as 10 Healthy Snacks Under 200 Calories, to keep wellness on their minds without overloading them. We’ve already seen several driver success stories. One lost weight just by giving up soda pop. Another discovered through his biometric screening that he had dangerously high cholesterol; he made some major lifestyle changes and has seen amazing health results. Every accomplishment deserves acknowledgment. Our drivers are choosing healthier living. We’re simply providing them with the tools to do so.”

Erica recognizes Rome wasn’t built in a day. “Our wellness program has been in existence just since 2014, yet it’s probably the thing I’m most proud of doing here. We’re seeing positive changes across the board for our drivers. We understand we won’t turn the tide overnight, but if we can affect 1 person today that’s a win. Sure, we are looking down the road to set goals, but at this point, we’re keeping it simple. One thing we’ve learned is don’t try to do it all. Just do what you can do, but do it really well.”

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