Impact of gasoline prices Featured

5:53am EDT September 21, 2006
Professionals who are feeling the price pinch at the pump may find help from their employers. According to a recent survey done by Robert Half International, a leading staffing service specializing in accounting, finance and information technology, 75 percent of executives polled say their firms are taking action to reduce the impact of higher gas prices on their teams.

“Companies recognize that high gas prices are affecting employees, and don’t want to lose people or suffer low morale because of it,” says Ryan Skubis, senior vice president of Robert Half’s Chicago Region.

Smart Business spoke to Skubis about how companies can help employees ease the pain of escalating gas prices in order to help boost morale and reduce turnover.

What has been the impact of higher gas prices on employees?
The increase in gas prices has been taxing on employees who have a lengthy commute to the office. Some employees may consider looking for a new job because of commuting costs; but in general, we’ve found that employees have stayed put and endured the gas price hikes.

However, if an employee is not satisfied with the job in the first place, or feels undervalued, the gas prices might be the last straw that propels him or her to look for a job closer to home. In general, the commute is seen as part of the job, and employees may be cutting costs elsewhere in their lives to compensate for the increase in gas prices.

According to your survey, what have companies been doing to help employees with escalating gas prices?
While employees are not leaving in droves because of higher gas prices, companies do realize that escalating gas prices are a burden to employees, so they are making efforts to make life easier for workers. For example, our survey showed that companies are increasing expense guidelines for employee-incurred mileage (cited by 47 percent of respondents), allowing staff to telecommute more frequently (37 percent) and encouraging carpooling (35 percent). About one-quarter of the executives surveyed said their companies are not taking any action at the moment, but one in four of those said their companies would likely try to reduce the impact of higher gasoline costs if prices continue to trend upward.

If a company can’t afford to increase compensation or expense accounts, what might they do?
There are inexpensive things a company can do to show it cares - which can go a long way in boosting morale. The simplest and least expensive is to have a place to post carpooling arrangements — either via e-mail or on a bulletin board. A business can also encourage telecommuting for one or two days a week, or let employees work at a satellite office closer to home. Companies can also permit flexibility in commuting time — for example, allowing the employee to come in earlier or later to avoid idling in rush-hour traffic.

Have gas prices become an issue in recruiting employees?
The majority of the executives polled (66 percent) said that it has not, but 22 percent noted that job applicants are less willing to make lengthy commutes and 11 percent said that candidates are seeking higher salaries because of the high gas prices.

Why should companies help their employees in this area especially if majority of executives said rising gas prices haven’t impacted their recruiting efforts?
The bottom line is that this issue provides employers with an opportunity to boost morale. Companies can’t control gas prices, but they can have an impact on the way their employees feel about it in relation to their job. It is a matter of showing employees that their employer cares about their needs, and is willing to help even in small ways. This goes a long way in creating staff that is loyal to the company and is happy to work there.

RYAN SKUBIS is a senior vice president of the Chicago Region for Robert Half International (www.rhi.com), a leading staffing service specializing in accounting, finance and information technology with more than 330 locations throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Reach Skubis at (312) 616-8200 or Ryan.skubis@rhi.com.