According to a 2015 Texas A&M Transportation Institute study, daily driving commutes are up, largely due to increased highway congestion (because, well, everybody is driving to work). Last year, Americans drove an extra 6.9 billion hours and consumed an extra 3.1 billion gallons of fuel getting to work.
To arrive at their destination on time, travelers had to allow an average of 48 extra minutes during rush-hour traffic on a trip that during off-peak hours would take only 20 minutes. And commuters in Washington, D.C., spend an average of 82 hours a year sitting in traffic, with other major cities running close behind, The Atlantic reports.
Part of the reason for this is the rebounding economy, which added more than 500,000 jobs from 2013 to 2014. It may also be the case that people still remember an uncertain economy and are reluctant to relocate for a job with an uncertain future, and also willing to drive longer distances for a secure job.
The Price of Longer Commutes
But there is a price paid for a longer daily commute in addition to additional fuel consumption, carbon emissions and wear and tear on the nation’s infrastructure. Slate reports that there is a considerable body of research indicating that, “People with long transit times suffer from disproportionate pain, stress, obesity and dissatisfaction.”
This also creates a problem for employers. Those stressed, overweight, dissatisfied and pained commuters aren’t likely to be the most productive employees when they finally do arrive at work.
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What can employers do to improve the physical and mental well-being of their workers (and, consequently, their productivity on the job) by decreasing, even eliminating, the need for rush-hour commuting? There are a number of options.
What difference, really, is there between sending an email from one office cubicle to another and sending the same email from one home office to another?
Of course, the Internet and mobile computing enable remote performance of a broad range of functions. The New York Times reports a Society for Human Resource Management study that found more companies offer telecommuting more than just about any other benefit.
True, certain business functions require face-to-face interaction, and not everyone has the temperament and self-discipline to work from home. But for situations where work can be performed remotely, and for employees comfortable with it, telecommuting not only saves people from the drudgery and expense of driving to work, it reduces the need to maintain office square footage, reducing real estate costs for employers.
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Businesses that aren’t open to the public needn’t function on a strict 9-to-5 schedule. Letting workers come in early or stay late allows them to avoid rush-hour traffic. According to the Small Business Chronicle, flex time scheduling also results in lower employee turnover, as well as improved job satisfaction and productivity.
Similarly, a 40-hour work week need not necessarily take place over five days. Allowing employees to work four, 10-hour days instead of five, 8-hour days not only means they will be commuting before and after typical rush times, but that they can eliminate a whole day of driving. This option does provide a little extra work for employers in scheduling to ensure normal working business hours are always covered.
An additional potential drawback, as WorkOptions notes, is the potential loss of productivity if workers are more susceptible to fatigue because of the longer workday.
While it doesn’t eliminate the drive itself, carpooling allows employees to share the burden of having to be behind the wheel all the time. It also allows for the sharing of fuel costs, as well as the wear and tear on vehicles. But these benefits alone aren’t always sufficient to get people to carpool.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), employers can encourage ride sharing by:
- Providing information about a rideshare matching program that connects potential carpoolers with similar locations and work schedules. Most local and regional rideshare organizations allow interested carpoolers to register for free.
- Offering carpoolers reserved parking spaces closest to office entrances.
- Rewarding carpoolers with periodic recognition, such as gift cards, a mention in company newsletters as “Carpooler of the Month,” discount coupons and other such rewards.
Not all of these options are suitable for every workplace. But at least one, or some modification of one, could pay off in workers that are more alert and rested by virtue of not having to drive as much.