Meanwhile, employers are doing little, if anything, to help employees cope with the budget-busting fill-ups at the pump.
Those are the key findings of a new study by the Workforce Institute titled “Working in America: Drivers Cope With Soaring Gas Prices.”
The Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based institute is the research arm of Kronos Inc., which sells hardware and software for hiring, management and retention of employees.
The nationwide survey, which is set for release August 20, polled 1,106 adults employed full or part time and was conducted online between July 16 and July 24 by Harris Interactive on behalf of the institute.
“We did not set out to do a survey specifically about high fuel prices,” said Joyce Maroney, director of the institute. “The predominance of high fuel prices [mentioned by respondents] was a bit of a surprise to us.”
The institute has done an annual survey, typically to measure general job satisfaction among workers nationwide. The survey has revealed in recent years that job security hasn’t wavered much, although Maroney said, “We’ve seen people hunkering down and staying in their job whether they were happy or not.”
But this year, the study was aimed at discovering what economic factors are affecting workers. And instead of eliciting a laundry list of problem areas, responses generally pointed to one thing: high fuel prices.
“This reflects people’s belief that we are in a recession,” Maroney said. “They believe everything is worse than it was a year ago, and it’s likely to get worse than it is today.
“That is making people more conservative in their discretionary spending. It sort of feels like a lot of people are taking a wait-and-see attitude while they prepare for a degradation in their personal economic situation.”
The survey found that 77 percent continue to drive to work every day. But they’re cutting back to make up the difference. Fifty-nine percent say they drive less when not at work, 57 percent are dining out less, 30 percent have postponed a vacation, and 69 percent are cutting back on spending for non-essential items.
Meanwhile, 61 percent reported having multiple jobs to pay their bills.
Eighty percent of the respondents say they get no financial or other benefits from their employers to ease the pain of high-priced gasoline.
Maroney said press accounts often cite employers claiming they have programs like telecommuting in place to help employees faced with high commuting costs. But she said about 8 percent of employers have such programs.
“The reality is, most people can’t take advantage of such programs,” Maroney said.
They may have a job that requires their physical presence, she said. And, she noted, hourly job workers under financial stress aren’t likely to push for telecommuting options.
Maroney said some employers help workers cope with fuel costs by:
• Not scheduling split shifts, which require a double commute; and allowing flextime with earlier or later schedules for more efficient commutes.
• Allowing compressed workweeks with four 10-hour days, versus the traditional five eight-hour days.
• Helping employees organize car pools and providing shuttles to public transportation.
• Providing employees gas debit cards of $50 to $100 to defray their commute costs.
“Employers always have to do the math with these ideas,” Maroney said.
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