As we approach the end of the 2022 calendar-year, I reflect on how fleet professionals have been buffeted by consecutive major crises, one after another, over the past two decades. When the COVID pandemic first emerged in 2020, all OEM assembly plants in North America were temporarily closed. The suspension in OEM new-vehicle production quickly cascaded to upfitters resulting in chassis shortages and depleted inventories at most bailment pools. Sales operations at dealerships closed impacting courtesy deliveries and out-of-stock vehicle purchases.
These market disruptions were the latest in a series of unprecedented events impacting fleet over the past two decades. It started with the 9-11 terrorist attacks, which triggered a meltdown in residual values in 2001 due to the widespread downsizing of rental fleets following the grounding of all commercial airlines. Then the credit crisis occurred in 2008-2009 with the Chapter 11 bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler. During the past 20 years, vehicle resale values plummeted 30% in 2001 to used vehicles actually appreciating in value in 2021. Likewise, gasoline prices escalated to $3 a gallon in 2005 and ultimately hit a record high of more than $6 per gallon on the West Coast. Similarly, the gallon price of No. 2 diesel hit a record high of $5.51 due to strong demand and inventory shortages.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, new terms like “The Great Resignation” and “quiet quitting” emerged in everyday business conversation. Although virtual meetings helped to enhance productivity of remote employees, it also added to the work load with the daily workday consumed by sequential virtual meetings, cramping the amount of time available for other work.
Fleet Management Becoming More Stressful
The past two decades have painfully demonstrated that fleet is very vulnerable to macroeconomic disruptions. The reality is that these market forces are beyond the control of fleet managers and the best we can do is mitigate. As a result, these market dynamics have caused much of a fleet manager’s activities to devolve into crisis management, putting out an endless stream of fires. The end result is that fleet professionals are being forced to continually work long hours and weekends, which is leading to “burnout.”
However, this phenomena is not restricted to only fleet management. For instance, workers in all segments of the economy saw heightened rates of burnout in 2020-2021. According to American Psychological Association in its 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, eight out of 10 employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey. Nearly three in five employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest and motivation. Meanwhile, more than one-third reported cognitive weariness, emotional exhaustion, and physical fatigue, which is a 38% increase since pre-pandemic 2019.
Even in a job market full of employment opportunities, workers are feeling overworked, disengaged, and burnt out. A separate Microsoft survey reported that nearly 50% of employees and 53% of managers report that they’re burned out at work, based on a survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries. Admittedly, many of these situations existed previously, but the COVID pandemic has amplified them. From longer work hours to increased demands at home, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced new stressors to nearly every segment of people’s personal and work lives. In terms of fleet, the past 30 months of dealing with COVID restrictions, endless supply chain disruptions, the inability to source replacement vehicles while being tasked by management to figure out how to transition to EVs has caused many fleet managers to be stretched to their limits.
The risk of fleet manager burnout isn’t a new phenomenon, but it has reached an intensity never seen before and it is pervasive not only in fleet, but throughout society as a whole.
Resilience is More Important Than Ever
On the whole, fleet professionals have displayed extraordinary resilience and ingenuity in the face of these unprecedented market disruptions. But, for some, it can lead to burnout caused by the constant stress created by continually changing market conditions, upon which we have very little control. But not everyone is affected in the same way. Why do some fleet professionals become overwhelmed while others persevere? My theory is that it is the resilient fleet managers who persevere. Resilience is the process of successfully adapting to difficult and challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands.
In addition, resilient fleet managers often have good time management skills to help to mitigate the feelings of being overwhelmed. A resilient fleet manager has the discipline in day-to-day tasks to focus on the important without being consumed by the urgent. In addition, a resilient fleet manager must be persistent, which will give you the skills of knowing how to survive and possibly excel in challenging times. They have the tenacity to creatively find solutions in a changing environment. Lastly, a resilient fleet manager has confidence about their abilities. However, there will always be those who attempt to second-guess fleet strategies. But no one has managed a fleet in this type of environment before and your fleet management skills make you the best qualified to do so. Resilient fleet managers have a willingness to manage at a level that is “company impactful” rather than simply “fleet impactful.” This is the ability to link strategic business objectives when navigating these difficult market disruptions.
Let me know what you think.