Ask Your Employer to Ease Your Gas Burden

I have seen a number of articles recently on ways for people to combat rising gas prices. One of the more practical ways coming to the fore is employers subsidizing driving costs to work or to allow employee telecommuting – i.e. working from home. The average U.S. commute is now about 30 miles and with gas at a record $4 per gallon, it’s hard for most people not to feel the pain. Unfortunately $4 gas is only the next stop as $5 gas is just around the corner, given the clip at which crude oil futures are going up.

A number of companies are making efforts to help their employees out with the commuting gas burden. According to a survey by Chicago out placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas 57% of companies said they’ve launched at least one program, and usually several, designed to beat the high cost of commuting for their employees. The most often cited, at 23%, are policies allowing – or even encouraging – people to work a compressed workweek of four 10-hour days. In addition, about 20% organize employee car-pools, 18% subsidize the cost of public transportation, and 14% let people telecommute from home at least one day a week.

Why are companies doing this?

Companies are always looking for ways to attract and keep the best staff. So using discounted fuel programs or flexible work hours and locations is a way to keep or lure potential employees. I won’t be surprised if this makes it as a criteria in “Best places to work Surveys” as commuting costs affect a vast majority of workers. While only a few companies so far report losing a valued employee because of high commuting costs, more than one-third (34%) say they’ve had coveted candidates turn down job offers because of long commutes.

Telecommuting, which cuts carbon-fuel use to zero, seems at first glance to be the most attractive option of all, especially when you consider that two independent researchers, Kate Lister and Tom Harnish, analyzed the American workforce and found that 40% of us have jobs that could be done remotely – yet only 4% actually work from home on a regular basis.

Most employers still hesitate to let people work from home and for that Challenger blames the uncertain economy: “Telecommuting is 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.” That’s a pity for the planet: If all the U.S. workers who could telecommute actually began to do so, Lister and Harnish estimate we would conserve 625 million barrels of oil annually, cut greenhouse gas pollution by 107 million tons of CO2, and save almost $43 billion at the pumps.

Another alternative is compressing the five-day work week into four, 10-hour days. Condensed work weeks are the most popular program for employers trying to reduce workers’ commuting costs, according to a recent survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Santa Clara, CA based Sun estimates that its more than 18,000 employees who can choose to work at home or the nearest office avoid buying 135 gallons of gas a year, which at $4 a gallon would save $540 each.

How to approach your employer for helping with higher gas:

If you employer hasn’t woken up to the fact that higher gas prices are adversely affecting its employees, you should take the initiative and ask for some concessions. Here’s how:

  • Get a group of people together who are suffering from commuting costs and document the increasing costs and pressures resulting from this. Approach Human Resources (HR) to discuss this first and if possible use them to escalate this issue to senior management and key decision makers. If HR are unresponsive, find a senior manager or someone influential who can take this request to the company’s leadership. They key thing is to be organized, document the facts and state the case. Provide alternative options for consideration, like working from home, flexible hours (to avoid driving in traffic) or a condensed work week. Most important for the company’s leadership is to show how these measures will not impacts operations, its customers or the bottom line.
  • If you are looking to have flexible work schedule or even work from home then you will need to justify how you could be just as effective working away from the office. You would also need to show you have a suitable home office and network connectivity. Most companies have telecommuting or work home policies already drawn up. So make sure you look for these first. When proposing a alternative work schedule/location make sure you document and prepared to show you it won’t change your productivity.

Of course, if you don’t want to drive at all you can always bike to work. The American Automobile Association estimates the annual cost of owning a car and driving it roughly 15,000 miles is about $14,000. It costs about $120 a year to maintain a bike . Best of all riding a bike is a very cost effective way to get in shape as well.

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