Workers change commuting styles in response to higher gas prices

Feeling pressure at the pump, many workers are changing their commuting habits to ease the financial burden of rising gas prices, a new survey conducted by Robert Half International shows. More than four out of 10 (44 percent) professionals interviewed said higher gas prices have affected their commutes, up from 34 percent two years ago when a similar survey was conducted.

Among those who said they have altered their work arrangements, the most common changes they reported making include increased carpooling or ridesharing (46 percent), driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle (33 percent) and telecommuting more frequently (33 percent). Three in 10 said they are looking for a new job closer to home.

The national survey included responses from 539 workers 18 years of age or older and employed full or part time. It was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Robert Half International, the world’s first and largest staffing services firm specializing in accounting and finance.

Workers were asked, "Have higher gasoline prices affected how you are commuting to work or your work arrangements?" Their responses:

2008 2006
Yes 44% 34%
No 56% 66%
100% 100%

Workers whose commutes have been affected by higher gasoline prices also were asked, "Which, if any, of the following changes have you made because of higher gasoline prices?" Multiple responses were allowed. Their responses:

Increasing carpooling or ridesharing 46%
Driving a more fuel-efficient car 33%
Telecommuting more frequently 33%
Looking for a new job closer to home 30%
Working from office locations closer to home 29%
Working fewer days of the week 26%
Asking for increased compensation 25%
Taking public transportation more frequently 23%
Walking or biking to work 18%
Driving more conscientiously (e.g. slower) 5%
Cutting back on spending 2%
Other 4%
None of these 10%

Respondents who said their commutes have not been affected by rising gas prices were asked how much more per-gallon gas prices would have to rise before impacting their work arrangements. The mean response was $1.14.

The survey also found that employers are launching a variety of initiatives to ease the burden on employees. The most common benefits companies are implementing to offset the rising cost of commuting, according to those interviewed, are increased mileage reimbursement for travel, ridesharing or vanpooling programs and subsidized transportation. Almost six in 10 respondents (59 percent), however, said their companies are not offering programs to alleviate higher gas costs.

Workers were asked, "What benefits, if any, is your company implementing or planning to implement to offset the rising cost of commuting?" Multiple responses were allowed. Their responses:

Increased mileage reimbursement for travel 18%
Ridesharing or vanpooling 17%
Telecommuting 11%
Subsidized transportation 8%
Relocation assistance 7%
Bike-to-work program 4%
More flexible work schedule 1%
Other 1%
None of these 59%

"Employers may be missing an opportunity to improve morale and reduce turnover by helping their staff cope with the burden of rising gas prices. Often, it can be as simple as communicating to employees what programs are already in place," said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of Human Resources Kit For Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). "Companies can build loyalty and motivation by showing employees that they are empathetic to their concerns during challenging times."

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