Employee Appreciation and Recognition Key to Driver Retention

In the complex web of educational institutions, one unsung group of heroes ensures that students arrive safely in their classrooms each day – school bus drivers. These dedicated individuals navigate through traffic, weather, routing challenges, and the daily rigors of transporting students to and from school.

But despite the crucial role they play, school bus drivers often find themselves underappreciated and face alarming turnover rates. This article explores the vital connection between employee appreciation and recognition and the retention of school bus drivers.

By shedding light on this relationship, we hope to highlight the significance of acknowledging school bus drivers who help shape our children’s educational journeys and foster a safer and more stable school transportation system.

The role of school bus drivers

Responsibilities of school bus drivers and the challenges they face

The chief responsibilities of a school driver include:

  • Transporting students and other passengers to and from school
  • Obeying all traffic laws
  • Ensuring the safety of all students
  • Maintaining a clean and mechanically sound bus at all times
  • Assisting students with getting on and off the bus
  • Verifying permissions for every child who rides home with friends
  • Disciplining students as necessary to maintain a safe bus environment
  • Conducting inspections of the bus before and after every route
  • Attending bus safety meetings as required

High turnover rates among school bus drivers

As of July 2023, there are more than 135,092 school bus drivers presently employed in the US.

The national turnover rate for school bus drivers dipped slightly to 6.8% in 2021 compared to 7% in the previous year, but the latter was a significant spike from the 2.92% turnover rate in 2019. Annual turnover varies from one school district to another, but rates anywhere from 10% to 20% have been reported in recent years, and they were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Bus driver shortages have had a real impact on the students heading into the 2023-2024 school year. Difficulty in recruiting new drivers, insufficient wages, an increasing number of retiring drivers, and competition with the private sector are some of the factors contributing to bus driver shortages after the pandemic.

School transportation costs take up a huge chunk of any school’s budget. For this reason, and due to the challenges of finding new drivers, such costs need to be reduced. While it could save the government millions of dollars, it could also mean a reduced number of school buses.

With school buses becoming scarce, it leaves parents, the school administration, and educators concerned about the potential risks it will pose to students going to and from school.

The needs and benefits of implementing employee appreciation and recognition program

An effective employee recognition and appreciation program will encourage strong individual performance and create a more positive workplace culture. Recognizing your employees for their hard work and dedication will build trust and loyalty, improve communication and productivity, and foster a sense of camaraderie and team spirit.

Employees want to be recognized for their efforts, and employee appreciation programs will provide the recognition they seek. This will in turn make them more motivated, productive members of the team and help boost morale across the board.

Show your team how much you value their work with an appreciation and recognition program. Improve morale, foster communication, and inspire a culture of excellence in your workplace. Start your program today and watch your employees thrive!

Strategies for employee appreciation and recognition

So, as employers, what benefits can you do to improve retention? Here are some suggestions:

1) Payment raise and benefits

Provide drivers with regular raises. In addition, consider offering medical, dental, and retirement benefits to drivers with a few years’ experience in your company. It’s also a good idea to allow investment into retirement programs. 

Not only does it show that you are committed to investing in your employees, but it also helps to boost their morale and encourage loyalty. 

When your employees feel and know that they are valued, they are more likely to stay in their jobs, as well as provide quality service. In other words, providing your drivers with regular raises and benefits is a win-win situation for everyone.

2) Work opportunities other than driving

Offer school bus drivers other employment opportunities during non-driving hours and summer breaks, even if they are not related to driving. For substitute drivers, make it possible to promote them if the need arises.

3) Rewards and recognition

Everyone loves to be appreciated and recognized, especially for their hard work, and your school bus drivers are no exception. Any form of recognition and reward will improve employee morale. Reward them for a job well done with a personalized thank-you note, a gift card, referral bonuses, a paid trip to a fun destination, or job-related perks such as preferential parking, or any token of appreciation. 

A custom badge, medal, or trophy is also a good idea to reward drivers for their exemplary performance, such as a clean safety record, perfect attendance, etc.

4) Information and awareness

Encourage the public, especially parents, to realize that school bus drivers are important and appreciate their roles in the community. Promote your department within your school district, you might even find more interested and aspiring drivers that way. Create and play videos about school bus safety during school special events, parent-teacher meetings, etc. It’s also a good idea to contact your mayor’s office or the City Hall to see if they would be interested in doing an officially sponsored school bus safety or recognition program for the entire community. 

5) Ongoing education and career development

Drivers will feel more engaged when they believe that their employers are invested in their career growth and development. Seek to implement systems that enable you to monitor the drivers’ performance, ride-alongs in the mornings, and offer coaching opportunities, etc. Provide paid training costs for any mandatory training sessions, find ways to optimize those sessions, and reduce the time that drivers have to spend in classrooms. Learn what your drivers are dealing with to help you train them in practical ways of handling real-life situations.

6) Always listen to your drivers

It’s important for your drivers that they are heard, so be sure to consider their ideas, suggestions, complaints, etc. The time they spend on the road, dealing with their routes and the students on a daily basis will provide them with valuable insights.

These strategies will help improve job satisfaction among school bus drivers, enhance driver retention rates, and ultimately create a positive impact in the school community.


School bus drivers do more than safely transporting students to and from school. They also serve as role models who contribute to the children’s educational success and overall well-being. With the long hours they put into work, the everyday challenges they face on the road, and their unwavering dedication to keeping everything safe in and out of the school bus, they deserve nothing less than proper recognition and appreciation.

This is why employee appreciation and recognition among school bus drivers is crucial. When drivers feel that they are recognized, appreciated, and rewarded, whether materially or relationship-based, they are less likely to quit their post and seek employment elsewhere. 

Contractors should prioritize driver retention through customized employee appreciation and recognition programs. By doing so, driver retention will increase.

You can learn more about becoming a school bus driver by reading our article “PA School Bus Driver – Why It’s a Great Part-Time Job.” Visit the School Bus Hero website to find school bus driver and aide jobs currently available.