5 ways to ease employees’ pain from high gas prices

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

With gas prices bouncing around near the $4-per-gallon mark, some employers are looking again at ways to help employees keep their tanks filled—or at least get to work each day.

The last time gas prices spiked so high, during the summer of 2008, many employers implemented compressed workweeks—40 hours spread over four days instead of five, for example—to help trim commuting costs.

But that was right before the 2008 economic meltdown. With companies still recovering from the resulting recession, fewer employers are interested in tweaking schedules, according to John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“Circumstances have changed signifi­cantly from early 2008,” he says. “Right now, in this job market, they have the upper hand and do not have to offer extra incentives to attract or retain workers.

“Even if the hours are the same by condensing 40 hours over four days, the loss of a day when customers and prospective customers might need serv­ice is too much to risk at this point in the recovery,” Challenger says. “Tele­commuting is also less likely to be in­­creased in this environment.”

5 smart strategies

That doesn’t mean employers don’t have options for helping workers deal with high gas prices. Here are some options for you and your employees:

1. Provide mass-transit subsidies or vouchers. Check with local mass transit authorities about related discounts and tax breaks. For advice on commuter benefits and the various tax advantages offered for employers and employees, see www.commuterchoice.com.

But don’t expect employees to jump on the bus just because of gas-price hikes. Studies show that most people view driving their cars to work as a convenience they would loathe giving up, unless they’re given some financial incentive.

2. Point employees to cost-saving web sites, such as www.fuelcostcalculator.com, which helps estimate what gas will cost for a given trip, and www.gasbuddy.com, which lists the spots with the highest and lowest gas prices in your region.

3. Distribute gas cards as a spot bonus or as a regular perk for certain segments of employees, or all staff.

4. 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, which only 5% of employers currently do.

5. Encourage commuting by bike. It doesn’t cost much to install a bike rack near the entrance. See if there’s a bike-sharing program in your area. Bike-sharing programs typically charge an annual membership fee of $50 to $75. The first half-hour of any trip is usually free, with longer rides costing a buck or two per hour. Bike sharing is spreading fast in cities such as Chi­cago, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

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