With spring break just around the corner and troubles continuing to stir in the Middle East, consumers are holding their breath to see if gas prices continue to climb. This first week of March in Idaho, the average price of unleaded gasoline is well-above $3 a gallon – up 5 cents in the Gem State and 15 cents nationally.
Not only do higher gas prices increase the cost of an employee’s daily commute to work, it also impacts the cost of her food and other necessities. Cost-of-living and merit raises, while predicted to increase 3 percent on average for many workers, are slow to appear. But there may be a way for employers to help their workforce stretch their fuel dollars – by supporting and encouraging alternative transportation programs.
The benefits of such programs are obvious from improved health for those who choose to walk or bicycle to work to a reduced carbon footprint by reducing congestion on our roadways.
What is less obvious to many employers is how to design and implement alternative transportation strategies that genuinely support these benefits without having a negative impact on business productivity. It is possible. All it takes is a commitment to considering the implications and developing innovative ways to address and communicate issues before they develop.
For some companies, providing home access to computer systems could provide employees the flexibility to work from home one or two days a week. With a computer and a telephone, team collaboration can continue and many home-office workers tout they experience increased productivity by avoiding water cooler chit chat.
Not every company can allow for that kind of flexibility, however. Some jobs simply require people to be on- site to run machinery or to be available to meet and greet customers. There are solutions for these kinds of workers, too. Facilitating car pools or van pools, encouraging bicycling-to-work programs, or other means of alternative transportation are plausible solutions.
The biggest down side is that it can increase commute time, cutting into work time. However, if an employer would be willing to provide a half-hour grace period for two or three days of alternative transportation, an employee could commit to making up that time on the days she drives herself to work. A company simply needs to clearly establish its expectations and then communicate those expectations to the workforce and the managers who will be responsible for monitoring program compliance.
Another option is to pilot an alternative transportation program in one area of a company for three to six months. During this time, the company can monitor any unforeseen issues and develop solutions before the program rolls out to the entire workforce. Better yet, empower a team of employees to develop the program and the policies that support it. If it is created by real workers, they will be the greatest champions to encourage participation. In addition, if the workforce believes in the program, they will be more likely to monitor their own and their co-workers’ compliance with the rules that are established.
Alternative transportation programs can be a powerful way for company leaders to demonstrate to their workforce that they understand the pain of higher fuel costs and that they are willing to make a commitment to helping employees control these unexpected costs. The energy a company puts into such programs can be recovered in increased productivity when employees believe their company cares about them.
Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.