In a previous post, I talked about the effect of fuel costs on employees, as well as various ways that employers are alleviating these pains. However, it seems that although the impact has been fast and furious, some employers are a bit slow on the draw in adopting workplace changes. Employers must be forward-thinking in the midst of our current (and not-ending-anytime-soon) fuel crisis – or they risk employees becoming frustrated and leaving.
In a recent Robert Half survey, 44 percent of workers said that higher gas prices have affected their work arrangements or method of commuting, up 10 percent from 2006. The top changes they are making? Increasing carpooling/ridesharing, driving a more fuel-efficient car, telecommuting, or looking for a new job that’s closer to home. That’s right - looking for a new job.
Fifty-nine percent of workers surveyed said their employers aren’t doing anything about offsetting the rising cost of commuting. Frustrated employees are looking for twofold greener pastures – closer commutes are a natural step to both save some green and become more green.
The good news? Some employers are getting it. Eighteen percent of workers say that their employers have increased mileage reimbursements for travel, 17 percent report company-implemented ridesharing or carpooling, and 11 percent say their employers provide telecommuting. Options like these represent a significant shift in the attitudes of many businesses.
David Lewis of HR firm OperationsInc is giving out Amex cards to his five-employee staff, allowing them to fill up their tanks on the company’s dime, for up to $100/month in expenses. While he acknowledges that this type of incentive many be a difficult financial move for many companies, he says, “I think employers have to start paying attention to this issue and figure out ways to somehow address it.”
It’s time to get creative. You may not be able to hand out credit cards or reimburse employees for monthly gas costs, but you can pick something within your means. Even making small gestures to show employees you care and are concerned about their financial woes can make a big difference.
Many employers are coming up with creative strategies. Elizabeth Estes-Cooper, executive vice president of San Diego’s JHG Inc., started Virtual Fridays, a pilot work-at-home program running through Labor Day. “If it works, we’ll extend it,” she said. “We realize we’re not going to reverse the greenhouse effect, but it will save about 30 gallons a week, over 400 [gallons] this summer.”
Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error until you find a shift that fits with your company’s budget, and with costs continuing to rise, chances are employers will be redefining their solutions more than once. At Brighten Your Life House Cleaning, for example, owner John Anderson has been raising the mileage reimbursement rate by 1 cent each time the price at the pump rises 20 cents. Although his employees appreciate it, he says it’s getting too expensive for a small business like his, so he’s switching over to company cars this summer.
Benefits of carpooling or telecommuting go beyond savings in fuel costs. They boost morale, alleviate stress, and may even strengthen employee relationships. Mike Douglass of Sabre Holdings says that he’s cut his weekly gasoline bill in half by carpooling and really enjoys “the camaraderie – to talk about business issues and bounce ideas off people’s heads.”
Looking for other ideas to cut down on employee transportation costs that won’t break the bank? Ideas can range from onsite lunches and barbeques, offering free impromptu coffee and breakfast spreads in the break room (who isn’t motivated by food??!), carpool incentives, allowing four-day/40-hour work weeks (Fridays off, anyone?), subsidized public transit cards for those in bigger cities, bike-sharing programs, coupons at area businesses, health plan or fitness center discounts, and schedule flexibility. These are just a few of many great low-cost options for employers.
More important to your employees than the magnitude of the gesture is the fact that you’re making one at all. Times are changing, and if you’re not changing along with them, employees are going to be making decisions without you.