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Easing Commuter Shock: The New In-Demand Perk?

Easing Commuter Shock: The New In-Demand Perk?

How to Get Relief from the Cost of Getting to Work

By Tom Musbach

The continuing upward pressure on gas prices is forcing many workers to change how they get to their jobs and to seek added benefits that offset commuting costs. 

In a survey by staffing firm Robert Half International (RHI), almost half of US professionals (44 percent) said higher gas prices are affecting their commutes, up from 34 percent a few years ago. The top three changes cited by the respondents are increased carpooling, driving a more fuel-efficient car and telecommuting more frequently.

Three in 10 respondents said they are looking for a new job closer to home.

What Employers Are Doing

Employers are also feeling the pressure, but they may be slower to help workers with the rising cost of bringing home the bacon. In the RHI survey, 59 percent of professionals said their employers are not offering programs to alleviate higher transportation costs.

Employers who do assist workers in this area are more likely to offer creative programs or discounts rather than raises or commuting stipends, according to the report "What Employers Are Doing to Help Their Employees with High Gas Prices in 2008."

Benefits that companies are offering include a flexible work schedule (26 percent), telecommuting (18 percent) and public transit discounts (14 percent), the report said. Only 2 percent offer cost-of-living raises prompted by gas prices or stipends to employees with long commutes. The report was published by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Ways to Get Help at Work

What if your employer doesn't offer any of the above benefits? Experts offer the following tips for addressing the problem while protecting your job:

  • Check with Human Resources: "Ask your HR rep if there are existing [commuter assistance] policies, because there may well be, even if they aren't widely recognized," says Alexandra Levit, author of How'd You Score That Gig? A Guide to the Coolest Careers and How to Get Them.

    Your request may also prompt HR to take action, as the business case for such incentives is strong, Levit says.
  • Highlight the Upside for the Company: "You should put a positive spin on your request to the boss or to HR," says Liz Bywater, president of the Bywater Consulting Group, which helps improve organizational performance. "Companies that offer such incentives may be seen as environmentally conscious and employee-friendly."

    "And remember that your employer would rather have you ask for this than ask for a raise or quit because you can't afford to commute," adds Levit.
  • Check with Your City: Local agencies may offer transportation incentive programs that employers can tap, according to Terry Pile, president of Career Advisors and author of Working in Your Slippers: Is Telecommuting Right for You?

    "Some cities require large employers to reduce the number of cars on their campuses by a certain percentage and provide them with assistance in putting together an alternative commuting program," she says.
  • Make a Proposal: "You could put together a cost analysis in support of telecommuting one or two days a week," Pile says, adding that studies have shown that telecommuting saves employers on parking and office space, productivity, and absentee costs. "If the employer can see a positive impact on the bottom line, you'll get better reception for a telecommuting program."

    Pile's advice may work for other programs, such as carpooling or flexible schedules.
  • Control What You Can: Even if your employer is not receptive to changing, find ways to increase your savings and efficiency. "Look at how you might save on gas outside of work by planning your errands efficiently, and walking or taking public transit when you can," says Pile.

    "You must find a way to live with the situation without anxiety," Levit says. "If you're strapped for cash, balance things out by taking away one expense you can tolerate -- such as dining out one meal per week. The increase in fuel costs is a hardship, no doubt, but it's not the same dire scenario as being unemployed or facing bankruptcy."

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