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Sharing the Pain at the Pump?

by Sally Weldin, Sr. Human Resource Specialist

Published May 10, 2011

There are several things that we, as a nation, can be happy about currently. However, the price of gas is not one of them. The price of fuel has slowly climbed since February and last week the price broke the $5 threshold in the Chicagoland area. It has become an obscene reality.

Think back to 2008 when gas prices last surged uncontrollably. Employers were concerned with helping employees cope. Employee retention was still somewhat a concern. Today - not so much. The IRS has not recalculated the business reimbursement rate for mileage since it was released at the beginning of the year – it remains at $.51 cents. Back in 2008, not all businesses had hit rock bottom in the recession. The outplacement consultancy firm Challenger Gray and Christmas reported that 57 percent of HR Executives they surveyed in 2008 were offering some assistance to help alleviate the cost of commuting. The most popular option back then – condensing the workweek.

In 2011, employers may be sympathetic to the current situation but unable to assist as before. John Challenger believes this is primarily due to organizations who having survived 2009 and 2010, are finally beginning to rebuild and aren’t as worried about employee retention given the current employment outlook. Some workplaces are hesitant to change the workweek because of customer service and sales coverage being so essential.

If your organization has decided to try to assist employees with fuel costs, here are some suggestions:

  • Arrange telecommuting – not applicable to all jobs but employees might find relief this way.
  • Give gas gift cards – use them as rewards, recognition or incentive awards.
  • Raise your mileage reimbursement rate - $.51 cents is the IRS recommended rate. Your organization might have a lower rate that you could raise to help offset prices.
  • Restructure and streamline sales or delivery routes
  • Shorten workweeks – condensing from 5 to 4 days.  You might also have different shift workweeks to cover all five days.
  • Implement flex time – again, not applicable to all jobs but some employees might find relief in scheduling alternative hours rather than the routine 8-5.  Employees who work from 6:30/7:00 – 3:30/4:00 may not find themselves idling in traffic as much.
  • Coordinate carpool participants – sometimes just getting the conversation started might be enough. Perhaps offset with good parking spaces as an incentive.
  • Encourage public transportation if feasible.
  • Encourage biking – a plethora of bicyclists were seen on the road in 2008.  This option may require arrangements for bike storage, showers, etc.
  • Encourage employees to offer suggestions.

Organizations whose businesses rely on transporting goods and services may find their fuel budgets so stretched that layoffs, cutting hours, or reducing wages/salaries will be the only way to cope with high gas prices. 

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