Roy Saunderson, author of Giving: The Real Recognition Way and president of Recognition Management Institute, a consulting firm helping companies develop employee recognition/reward programs, told OccupationalHazards.com that those high prices at the pump could have wide-reaching effects on worker happiness and productivity.
According to Saunderson, rising gas prices and other costs of living not only cause many people to forgo vacations and recreational activities, but also make it more difficult to pay off debt. And when employees find themselves in hard times, they’re likely to become more stressed.
“Stress has an impact on how productive people are,” Saunderson said.
He cites research conducted by Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Management at Florida State University's College of Business, that shows individuals concerned most with high gas prices significantly were less attentive on the job, less excited about going to work, less passionate and conscientious and more stressed.
Of the 800 full-time employees surveyed this past spring, Hochwarter found that 45 percent reported that escalating gas prices caused them to fall behind financially. More than half of survey respondents reconsidered taking vacations, 45 percent had to cut back on debt-reduction payments and nearly 30 percent considered the consequences of going without basics, such as food, clothing or medicine.
The research also indicated that one-third of survey respondents would quit their jobs for comparable employment located closer to home.
“It’s definitely top of mind,” Saunderson said of rising gas prices. “The gas crisis is a higher ‘water cooler’ conversation piece than family or other areas.”
To help employees handle the rising gas prices – and to prevent them seeking other jobs closer to home – telecommuting may be the solution.
First, Saunderson said, working from home must fit the job. Computer-dominated work roles, for example, tend to be most appropriate for telecommuting. Workers can telecommute 1 day a week or more as the job duties allow.
For telecommuting to be successful, Saunderson stressed that employers must set up communication channels and have regular contact with employees. “Many ‘virtual employees’ say they don’t get acknowledged as much,” he pointed out. “Make regular opportunities to connect with these employees.”
While some employers might fear that at-home workers are being less productive because they’re not physically in the office, Saunderson said that’s usually not the case. While virtual employees might not work a regular 9-5 day because they are not as bound by time, they can focus on completing the project at hand instead of working around that prescribed schedule. In addition, fewer office distractions actually might help employees become more productive.
If working at home is not an option, employers still can help workers save at the pump by offering fuel efficiency tips and encouraging carpooling or public transportation options. Providing discounted rates on public transportation is a greener option than simply handing out gas cards, Saunderson pointed out, and helps provide a solution to the gas crisis rather than simply consuming more.
Saunderson stressed that one of the most vital steps an employer can take is to meet and communicate with workers, preferably individually. This way, an employer can gauge whether the worker is struggling financially and can propose possible solutions, such as debt counseling, budgeting or stress management.
These personal interactions also can reveal whether workers are stressed or considering finding new jobs to decrease their commute time. Employers should discuss options with the employee or offer assistance. Often, simply knowing the employer cares can boost a worker’s productivity and decrease stress.
“One-on-one meetings help maintain productivity,” Saunderson said.
Saunderson offers additional tips to help employees deal with the fuel crisis:
- Consider shortening the workweek to 4 days with extended work hours.
- Create a space where employees can post or coordinate carpooling rides, or encourage employees to check with their neighbors about rideshare options. Consider giving gas cards to employees who stick with carpooling for a specified time period.
- Bring in an automobile association representative or a local mechanic to present tips and inspect cars for improving fuel efficiency.
- Establish a childcare arrangement at work, or set up a daycare opportunity nearby to lessen childcare travel time and expenses. Options include negotiating a group rate at a nearby daycare center or arranging shuttle transportation for parents and kids to and from work.
- Since entertainment often is the first expense to go during difficult financial times, reward hardworking employees with movie passes or restaurant certificates.
- Work with the local tourism board to see what package deals can be arranged to assist your employees with little or no vacation plans. Consider sponsoring a day outing for employees and their families to a local tourist attraction.
- Make exercise programs and gym equipment available at work saving travel costs and membership fees.
- Work with local and federal government authorities in applying for incentives for reducing transportation expenses and promoting telecommuting.
“The gas crisis is not going away,” Saunderson said. “We need to think differently.”