Employers do little to ease commuting costs: Hewitt

Creativity needed to combat rising fuel costs and help environment

Employees may be feeling the pain at the pumps as gas prices soared over the past year and have plateaued in Canada at an average of more than $1.28 a litre, but employers are doing little to ease the commuting burden, according to a new survey.

More than 200 Canadian organizations responded to an online survey by global HR company Hewitt Associates. Of that, almost one-half offer flexible work locations or telecommuting, which includes working from home or a satellite office, and 64 per cent provide flexible work hours, which includes condensed work weeks and flexible start times.

However, the main reason employers offer these programs isn't to help workers cut down on commuting costs or to help the environment, but instead to improve workers' wellness.

"Commuting can be extremely stressful," said Rochelle Morandini, Hewitt senior organizational health consultant. "Any methods employers offer to alleviate that stress will benefit employees. However, if organizations think more creatively, they can have a bigger impact on the environment, as well as on employee health and financial well-being. Such initiatives can differentiate employers in a tight labour market."

Only a handful of employers provide company-sponsored transportation to and from mass transit or parking subsidies for alternative fuel vehicles or carpool vehicles, said Jeff Vathje, a senior compensation consultant with Hewitt. However, other arrangements are gaining employer endorsement.

The survey data indicates that the following initiatives are making their way into the workplace:

• 11 per cent of organizations provide a subsidy for mass transit.

• 20 per cent provide non-financial support for car poolers, like a bulletin board to facilitate car pool arrangements.

• 36 per cent provide bike racks, change rooms or other non-financial support for bicycle commuters.

While many employers can still do more to ease commuter travel, they are addressing the impact of rising gas prices on business travel. Almost two-thirds said they have increased their mileage reimbursement rate in the last year and 53 per cent also plan to review those rates over the next six months.

"The reasons most frequently given for recent or anticipated increases were rising gas prices, employee fairness, and remaining competitive," said Vathje.

"However, a quarter of respondents stated that they increased rates because employees asked them to do so. Only 16 per cent of organizations report that they regularly review their reimbursement policy. If organizations want to build goodwill with their employees, they should proactively review mileage reimbursement rates on a regular basis."

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