HR Issues

Pain At the Pump: How Employers Can Help
Mary Pille - Employers' Association

How did you get to work today? Like the majority of central Illinois residents, you probably hopped in your car and drove to work by yourself. With gas prices hitting record highs and making headlines every day, are you as an employer doing anything to ease the pain—not only for controlling company expenses, but to aid your employees? Interested in learning how you can save money at the pump? Read on.

In a study conducted in May of this year by Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a global outplacement firm, more than half (57 percent) of 100 human resource executives representing a wide variety of industries said their companies offer some type of program designed to alleviate increased commuting costs. The most popular program, utilized by 23 percent of respondents’ companies, is offering a condensed workweek, which typically consists of four 10-hour days. In addition to condensed workweeks, one in five companies organizes employee carpools and 18 percent subsidize the cost of public transportation. Approximately 14 percent have expanded telecommuting options.

Regarding telecommuting, according to a study by independent researchers Kate Lister and Tom Harnish, 40 percent of Americans have jobs that can be done remotely, yet only four percent of the workforce currently works from home. Finally, studies also reveal that with gas prices shooting up to more than $4 a gallon, some employees—especially people with long commutes—are rethinking their job choices. This is not good news at a time when it is challenging to recruit and retain great talent.

Another study, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that gas prices are at the top of Americans’ “serious problem” list relating to the economic slide. A third survey, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), of 550 HR executives, found most organizations are using benefits, not increased pay, to help employees cope.

Listed below are ideas and solutions garnered from all three studies. Maybe one or more will find their way into your work life!

  • Raise mileage reimbursements to the IRS maximum—50.5 cents per mile.
  • Offer flexible scheduling and/or compressed workweeks (ie. four 10-hour days).
  • Offer telecommuting to a wider range of employees.
  • Provide public transportation discounts or vouchers. For more advice on commuter benefits and the various tax advantages offered for employers and employees, see commuterchoice.com or www.bwc.gov/employ/benefits.htm.
  • Distribute gas cards as a spot bonus or as a regular perk for certain segments of employees, or all staff.
  • Launch a car-pooling program. Post a car-pooling bulletin board in your break room or create an online version on your intranet. Reserve desirable parking spaces for car poolers. Consider offering car-pooling subsidies. 
  • Point employees to cost-saving web sites, such as fuelcostcalculator.com, which helps estimate what gas will cost for a given trip, and gasbuddy.com, which lists the spots with the best and worst gas prices in your region.
  • Advance gas money prior to travel as opposed to post-travel reimbursement.
  • Allow employees to transfer to offices closer to their homes.
  • Partner with local hotels for discounted pricing for employees with long commutes.
  • Re-route sales forces to make areas more compact.
  • Decrease in-person meetings with tele- or web-based conferencing.

One final note: don’t expect employees to jump on the bus or start car pooling on their own just because of gas-price hikes. Studies show most people view work travel as essential and it’s the last thing consumers consider changing, unless they’re given some financial incentive. IBI

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