Bully at Work Moody Boss Karma Office Gossip No Picnic Back stabber Plug your Ears Moody Boss

Soaring Gas Prices Force Employers To Respond

headline franke james; licensed gas pump ©iStockphoto.com/ Skip ODonnell


As record gasoline prices make it more costly for the nation’s workers to get to and from their jobs, a larger-than-expected number of companies have taken steps to help ease the financial burden on employees, including the expansion of telecommuting opportunities, public transportation subsidies and car pool programs.

More than half (57 percent) of human resource executives in a survey by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. 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.

What the transportation cost survey reveals
The survey was conducted during the first two weeks of May among approximately 100 human resource executives representing a wide variety of industries nationwide. In addition to condensed workweeks, one in five companies organizes employee car pools and 18 percent subsidize the cost of public transportation. Approximately 14 percent have expanded telecommuting options.

The economy and market for job seekers has softened, but many employers still count the recruitment and retention of talent among their top priorities. Part of the reason employers offer these gas-saving perks is to keep their best and brightest workers from seeking positions closer to home.

How have employees responded?
So far, only a handful of companies have actually had an employee leave due to increased commuting costs. However, 34 percent reported that potential job candidates turned down offers because of long commutes.

The average commute to work is currently about 30 miles, according to Steve Reich of the Center for Urban Transit Research at the University of South Florida, in a recent interview for Forbes.com. If gas prices remain high for the foreseeable future, as some experts claim, the average distance between work and home could decrease significantly.

Trade-off: Leisure time versus commuting time
It used to be that the best jobs were in the city. The only jobs in the outlying suburbs were in retail or at restaurants. However, like many Americans, more and more companies have moved out to the suburbs in order to get more space for less money. This presents more opportunities for those seeking shorter commutes.

Even in cities with good public transportation systems, it could still be a struggle for employers to attract and retain employees with long commutes. It is not just a matter of cost of gasoline or mass transportation, which more companies are helping to defray through subsidies. The bigger issue for those with commutes over 20 miles is the time it consumes. As work-life balance becomes a higher priority for more Americans, they are starting to factor in the time it takes to get to and from work.
It’s great if you can find a job that is dedicated to eight-hour days and offers flexible scheduling, but if your round-trip commute is three hours the benefits of the good hours and flexible schedule are moot.

Condensed workweeks, which in most cases offer employees the chance to work four days, provides a solution that not only addresses the cost issues associated with high gasoline prices, but also the time issue for those seeking improved work-life balance.

Three-day weekends could cause employees to come back extra refreshed and happier on Monday. People may actually work harder and more efficiently during the four-day work week.

Beyond condensed workweeks, the program that most effectively addresses the work-life balance and cost issues related to commuting is giving more employees the opportunity to work from home one or more days per week. Only 14 percent of human resource executives surveyed by Challenger said their companies were expanding telecommuting in response to high gas prices.

Telecommuting has upsides but also risks
Telecommuting may be the best solution, but it is going to be a tough sell when business conditions are as weak as they are now. In a slowdown, managers want all their workers on the front line. As a worker, it is also a bad time to be away from the office. Even if your productivity is equal to or better than that of those in the office, the lack of face-time with your supervisors puts you at a distinct disadvantage.

Many companies, even ones that benefit from the growth of telecommuting, such as AT&T, remain attached to management-by-sight traditions. According to WorldatWork, an association of human resource professionals from FORTUNE 500 and other leading organizations worldwide focused on attracting, motivating and retaining employees, more than 28 million Americans now work at least one day per month from home, with an estimated 100 million teleworking by 2010.

However, as the organization noted in its recent article, the biggest obstacle to the continued expansion of telecommuting is that most managers have only been trained to work with employees who are physically present.

Managers may have to learn how, because telecommuting may not only prove to be the most effective way to attract and retain the best talent, but it may be the key to reducing our dependency on foreign oil.

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. If all of these workers telecommuted, they conclude it would annually save 625 million barrels of oil, reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 107 million tons of CO2, and save almost $43 billion at the pumps.

Meanwhile, 43 percent of the companies represented in the Challenger survey offer no programs to alleviate commuting costs. However, the fact that a majority of companies are addressing the problem represents a significant improvement over past surveys.
The overwhelming majority of employers, however, took a hands-off approach, with 86 percent saying that their companies did nothing to help their workers.


1. Has your company offered any of the following to alleviate commuting costs? (choose all that apply)

None of the above 42.9%
Condensed workweek (such as four 10-hour work days) 22.9%
We organize car pools 20.0%
We subsidize public transportation 17.5%
Other (gas card prizes, monthly transportation stipend, etc.) 16.3%
We expanded telecommuting opportunities 14.3%
We encourage bicycling or walking to work 11.2%
We subsidize gas costs 5.7%
We offer shuttle services 2.9%
All of the above 0.0%

2. Have you or others at your company noticed an increase in any of these employee behaviors to alleviate transportation costs?
(choose all that apply)

Carpooling 43.0%
None of the above 31.4%
Using public transportation instead of driving 23.0%
Increased Telecommuting 14.0%
Bicycling to work 11.4%
Walking to work 5.7%
Working longer hours for fewer days in the office 2.9%
All of the above 2.0%

3. Have potential job candidates turned down offers to work at your company because of long commutes?

No 65.7%
Yes 34.3%

4. Have any employees left the company due to higher transportation costs?

No 92.6%
Yes 7.4%

John A. Challenger John A. Challenger is chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement consultancy that pioneered outplacement as an employer-paid benefit in the 1960s. Challenger is a recognized thought leader on workplace, labor, and economic issues.

Soaring Gas Prices Force Employers To Respond © 2008, Challenger, Gray & Christmas;

The Office-Politics Industry Expert Opinion Column | www.officepolitics.com;

What's your advice?

(You can also tweet it to @dearOP)