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Employers Pump Up Mileage Reimbursement, but Little Relief for Costly Commutes

June 26, 2008
Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Workforce Planning, Latest News
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Average gas prices broke the $4 barrier nationally in early June, making the daily commute a much more expensive proposition.

But Americans are likely to get only modest help from employers in easing pain at the pump. Two recent surveys show the primary way companies are responding has nothing to do with getting to work.

In a Society for Human Resource Management poll released May 21, 42 percent of the 545 HR professionals surveyed said their firm is raising the mileage reimbursement for company travel to the 50.5-cent per mile cap allowed by the Internal Revenue Service.

Nearly 60 percent of 539 workers surveyed in a Robert Half International poll issued May 29 indicated their companies have not implemented any programs to reduce the energy cost burden. The most popular one that is rolled out is the mileage reimbursement.
That kind of travel, though, is for company business. The idea that employees are compensated for what they do in the office but not for getting there is deeply ingrained.

“It would take a lot to change that common practice,” says Deb Keary, SHRM’s director of human resources. “Employees are not paid to commute.”

They’re likely not looking for that radical of a solution—for the moment. Forty-four percent of the workers in the Robert Half poll said high gas prices are affecting their commute. Many are now car-pooling or taking a bus or subway.

This dovetails with what companies are offering. In the Robert Half survey, 17 percent of the respondents said their employer is helping arrange ride-sharing, while 8 percent said they’re subsidizing public transportation.

The SHRM poll shows the percentages of employers organizing car pools and offering public transportation discounts have increased by 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively, compared with last year.
Often, these benefits already exist and are growing in popularity in tandem with rising gas prices. Employees “see it as a boosting of benefits they’re aware of but may not be using themselves,” Keary says.

That makes it important for companies to reinforce what’s available—from the company and in the community. At Robert Half headquarters in Menlo Park, California, a link to information about a car-pooling program offered by the business park in which it’s located is posted on an internal Web site, according to Linda Blandford-Beringsmith, vice president of human resources.

It’s not just the method of getting to work that’s being altered—so is the way that work gets done.

Flexible schedules and telecommuting are proliferating. They came in second and third, respectively, in the SHRM poll.

“Flexibility is certainly the thing that is on the table now,” says Jane Weizmann, a senior consultant at Watson Wyatt in Arlington, Virginia.
It’s been put there because employees are demanding it, which is creating an atmosphere for reforming office life.

“The questions coming up now will be causing companies to look even more closely at their workforce and perhaps be a springboard for more creativity for how they plan to manage their workforce,” Blandford-Beringsmith says.

—Mark Schoeff Jr.

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