Parking traffic at HR's door (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/02/2003

P

ool tables, beer fridges, elegantly decorated surroundings and modern furnishings. They all contribute to a pleasant atmosphere that makes coming to work more enjoyable.

But all the potted ferns and free café lattes in the world won’t influence an employee’s attitude as much as the negative response to having struggled for more than an hour through traffic on the way in.

HR executives are spending time trying to design workplaces that give their organizations an edge in attracting and retaining talent. With these goals in mind, it behooves business to be active in ensuring that transportation policies in their region are commuter friendly.

Urban centres, such as B.C.’s Lower Mainland and the Greater Toronto Area, are already seeing potential job candidates express reluctance to take positions that involve a commute from one part of the region to another. And for those who are making long commutes, consider the burnout effect that up to three hours from home and back each day has. All of this contributes to stress levels, complaints about work-life imbalances and employee assistance plan issues.

Employers have always shown a willingness to make their voices heard to governments when issues impacting business arise. Health care and Quebec separatism are but two examples. Recent forays into the debate over personal income tax levels show an acute awareness of how government policy can become a recruitment and retention issue.

Unfortunately, when it comes to transportation concerns, business activism is usually limited to complaining about the need for back-to-work legislation when local transit workers go on strike.

Take the Ontario government’s recent downloading of responsibility for the GO Transit system, which links a wide swath of outlying suburbs and towns to Toronto. Now, instead of a co-ordinated approach to moving people across the region, transit responsibility is in the hands of a myriad of municipal and regional governments who lack both the funds needed to run an efficient system and the willingness to co-operate. The future for GO Transit is in the hands of politicians more motivated to bicker about who pays what share than to find commuter solutions.

Ontario’s independent environmental commissioner has stated that public transit systems across the province are deteriorating because of the shift of funding responsibilities to local governments. It’s time for business to add its two cents’ worth.

Business response to the impact of government policies in the health-care arena provides an example of what can be done. In the mid-90s, more than 30 of Ontario’s largest employers, including Nortel, Stelco, Bell Canada, banks and insurance companies, among others, joined to create the Employer Committee on Health Care Ontario (ECHCO).

With a stake in how health-care reform pushes costs onto private plans, as well as its impact on employees, ECHCO ensured employers a seat at the policy table. Transportation needs the same approach.

Traffic may not be a topic with much pizzazz, but it certainly needs a corporate champion.

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