Helping with the Gas Crisis: What You Can Do for Your Employees

The national average price for regular gas is nearly at $4 a gallon and we are all feeling the pinch. Your customers are driving less, spending more of their money on gasoline and less on other products. Your suppliers are charging more to cover the cost of transportation and those costs are likely being passed on to your own customers. If you have a delivery arm to your business, you have probably had to raise the price on that as well to cover the increases. However, have you considered the expenses of your own employees? How much does it cost for them to go to and from work each day or, more to the point, what percentage of their income must now be devoted to commuting and what can you, as an employer, do to ease the pain caused by ever-increasing fuel prices?

The Four-Day Work Week
Consider the employee who makes $500 per week and who has been with your company since gasoline was at $2 per gallon. Assuming an 18-gallon gas tank, when they were hired the price of getting to and from work stood at $36. That means their take home pay, less the amount they pay to commute every week, is $464. Today, with gas at $4 per gallon, that same tank of gas costs $72, leaving them $428 and that is before taxes! Can they afford to work for you at that salary with so much of their income going into their gas tank?

 

Enter the four-day work week. By going from five 8-hour days to four 10-hour days, that same employee can save a significant 20% or about $14.40 on gasoline each week. Savings like that could equal a free tank of gas every five weeks.

Telecommuting
Telecommuting is a voluntary work alternative in which the employee performs their work somewhere other than the office, usually at their home. The impact of this arrangement can be similar to that of the 4-day week or far more profound depending on the number of days the employee works from home. Obviously, the more days worked from home, the greater the savings in fuel costs. The key to making this work is that the employee’s offsite work environment must be a place of minimal distractions that is conducive to accomplishing their work. They need to have a computer and an Internet connection, access to the company network—or at least to their own work PC—a business phone and any other special items that may be required for their job. For some, this might entail an upfront out of pocket expenditure, but that would easily be made up in savings.

While telecommuting is not appropriate for all jobs, for those who can do it—certain professionals, administrative staffers, sales people and executives—it does have certain benefits including lower fuel costs and less time spent in the voluntary solitary confinement (VSC) of their car—with all the mechanical wear and tear that implies—staring at the back of the head of the VSC inmate in front of you.

Carpools
Putting together a carpool program is an excellent alternative to changing work schedules and locations. As long as the members of the carpools are in reasonably close proximity to one another and work similar or identical schedules then there should be little problem. It can be as easy as announcing the program and its benefits to your employees and creating a sign-up sheet for carpool assignments.

One thing you should definitely point out when introducing such a program is the fact that sharing rides is a great way to lower the cost of commuting, something that is on everyone’s mind these days. To give an idea of the kind of savings your employees could enjoy with a ride sharing arrangement, Long Island Transportation Management, Inc., developed a handy calculator . Assuming that your full time employee’s car gets 20 MPG on a commute (round trip) of 50 miles, that their cost-per-mile for maintenance, taxes, etc. is typical and that they pay about $125 per month for parking, the estimated annual cost of drive-alone commuting is $10,383! By carpooling with another employee, that drops to $5,191.50; with two others its $2,595.75 and with three, the annual cost of commuting to work is $1,730.50.  

Public Transportation
As an employer, your local public transit system can offer a variety of programs and alternatives for your employees. One such program in the Chicago area is called the Transit Benefit Fare Program.

According to the Illinois Regional Transportation Authority, the Transit Benefit Fare Program is a low- or no-cost benefit for both employers and employees that permits employees to pay for transit using pre-tax income in amounts up to $115 per month ($1,380 per year). Employers have a choice in whether they want to subsidize this benefit for their employees and, if so, at what level. Regardless, the result would be a reduction in taxes for both the employee and the employer while employees would be able to purchase various types of fare media that can be used for their commute to and from work. Similar programs can be found all over the country and they go a long way toward making the commute easier and far less expensive than driving alone.

The Bottom Line
Whether you help with getting public transportation, arranging carpools or altering the working environment either through telecommuting or a shortened work week, the fact that you are trying to take material steps to help your employees through these difficult times of high energy prices, it will have a marked effect on your workforce. Studies in the first decades of the 20th century demonstrated that workers performed better, showed greater productivity, simply because management paid attention to them. Here is a chance for you to pay attention to something real and challenging in their lives. You won’t be disappointed with the results.