Employers help workers handle high gas prices

With three in 10 workers looking for jobs closer to home, communicators must get the message out that the company cares.

With three in 10 workers looking for jobs closer to home, communicators must get the message out that the company cares

U.S. gas prices are hovering around record $4 per gallon across the country, and people are panicking—and looking for jobs they don’t have to commute to.

And that’s got employers concerned.

A new Robert Half survey revealed that higher gas prices have affected the commutes of 44 percent of professionals—and 30 percent are looking for jobs closer to their homes.

Not wanting to lose valued employees, many companies are exploring ways to ease their anxiety— and internal communicators need to get this message to their audiences.

“Employers may be missing an opportunity to improve morale and reduce turnover by helping their staff cope with the burden of rising gas prices. Often, it can be as simple as communicating to employees what programs are already in place,” says Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International. “Companies can build loyalty and motivation by showing employees that they are empathetic to their concerns during challenging times.”

The survey also reports that workers are more frequently carpooling or ridesharing (46 percent), driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle (33 percent) and telecommuting more frequently (33 percent).

Meanwhile, TransitCenter, a nonprofit that promotes the use of mass transit, found that deployment of tax-free commuter benefits programs by U.S. employers in major metropolitan areas has grown 57 percent, jumping from 28 percent in 2006 to 44 percent in 2007.

“Today, it is the No. 1 program that employers plan to add to their benefits package in the next year,” Larry Filler, CEO and founder.

Not surprising, considering that the American Public Transportation Association reports that workers took more than 10.3 billion trips on public transportation last year, the highest level in 50 years.

Technology makes telecommuting easier; the environment benefits

Many companies are taking advantage of technology to help keep costs down. Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to quadruple its videoconferencing room by next year, reports The Wall Street Journal. The company’s communicators have also sent newsletters to employees reminding them that about the benefits of car pools, company shuttles and bicycles.

Many other organizations are offering increased telecommuting options.

JHG-Townsend, a public relations agency in San Diego—where gas prices are more than $4 a gallon and rising—is responding by launching a pilot program called “Virtual Fridays.” Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the company’s 33 employees will work remotely on Fridays while using the latest technologies to communicate with their clients and each other.

Another PR firm, HCK2 Partners in Dallas, is doing something similar by creating a rotating “work from home” program this summer.

Employees—most of whose commutes are between 30 minutes and an hour each way—are encouraged to work from home one Friday per month. The firm’s leaders say they will revisit the program in September to determine whether it will continue

Such programs will also benefit the environment.

Using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator, JHG-Townsend found that by implementing “Virtual Fridays” it will save:

  • 30 gallons of gas each week;
  • 420 gallons of gas during the entire summer program;
  • 18 barrels of oil (assuming 23 gallons are refined from one barrel of oil);
  • 3.64 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“Just think, if 10 San Diego companies of our size did this, we could save 4,200 gallons of gas this summer and take some profits away from oil companies!” says Michelle Brubaker, a senior account executive at the firm.

Other employers are suggesting workers take Fridays off altogether.

Michigan’s Oakland County, for instance, is considering transitioning public employees to four-day workweeks, reports The Wall Street Journal.

County leaders are currently awaiting approval from the commissioners to create a four-day, 40-hour workweek that would remain in place for “the foreseeable” future. They estimate that up to 1,500 of the county’s 4,000 employees would take advantage of thus option; however, if only 800 did, it would save about $300,000 over the course of a year.

How companies are helping employees cope with high gas prices

A May survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, “What Employers Are Doing to Help Their Employees with High Gas Prices in 2008,” showed that the most common tactic (42 percent) was to raise mileage reimbursement to the IRS maximum. Only 2 percent of surveyed employers are offering a cost-of-living raise prompted by gas prices, or stipends to employees with long commutes.

Other benefits include:

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