Commuting is obviously a burden on staff. Costing time, energy and affects the lifestyle they can live. And with a recent survey suggesting commuting takes longer now than a decade ago, it’s a problem that’s not going away. Luckily, there are many ways to mitigate the negative effects of commuting, raising employee wellbeing and potentially improving performance. Read on to find out what actions you can take.
1. Flexible working
Flexible working is an obvious solution to the commuting burden. Allowing employees to stagger their working hours helps them avoid commuter traffic, which reduces the stress of commuting and the time it takes.
Home working is another option, which eliminates the commute altogether. For some employees, it’s the relentless, everyday nature of commuting that wears them out. Even one day a week – such as Wednesday, the ‘hump day’ – without a commute can cut down the emotional and even financial burden.
Overall, flexible working is an empowering, smart solution to the commuting burden. It also offers other benefits, such as attracting and retaining talent. Yet do remember that there are potential downsides you need to mitigate to make it work for your organisation.
2. Cycle-to-work schemes
Cycling to work can save staff time as cyclists are naturally less vulnerable to traffic conditions. It also increases wellbeing due to the protective and endorphin-boosting benefits of exercise. This, may empower staff to leave later in the morning and arrive home earlier in the evening, improving work/life balance.
Cycle-to-work schemes allow staff to get access to a bike, along with relevant accessories, in a tax-efficient way. The package is purchased by the employer and loaned to the employee tax-free, with the cost reclaimed in monthly deductions, normally as part of a salary sacrifice scheme.
Employees can save an estimated 25-39% through a cycle-to-work scheme. Electric bikes are also included in the scheme, opening up cycling as a commuting option to those who who have been excluded before due to the distance they live from the workplace.
There are several benefits to the employer: they save national insurance contributions on the employee’s reduced salary, they can treat the purchase as capital expenditure and claim the associated allowance and they should eventually be able to reduce the number of parking spaces offered to employees.
3. Subsidised bus travel
The cost of commuting is heavily influenced by the location of the workplace relative to where the employee lives. One employee’s commute could be inexpensive while another employee’s could be prohibitive. That’s why it’s important to spread your actions around multiple methods of transports to appeal to the widest proportion of your workforce.
Subsidising the cost of travel on bus services can help a significant number of employees, particularly if you partner with a supplier that services many routes. Some organisations will essentially make a bulk order of bus tickets and then resell these to staff at a lower rate. Another option is to agree a reduced rate with bus companies when staff present their work ID.
Subsidising public transport also encourages the use of greener travel options, which is good for the environment. For drivers who switch to bus travel to save money, it gives them valuable time back they can use to relax or catch up on things that can’t be done when driving.
5. Season ticket loans
The financial burden of season tickets is considerable and there’s evidence that rail prices will rise by up to 3.2% in January 2019. If employees can’t afford to buy season tickets upfront, they have to pay for the more expensive weekly or monthly options. Season ticket loans allow them to purchase the most cost-effective options.
There are no tax advantages to the employee (the cost is reclaimed from net salary), but there is a tax liability if the loan exceeds £10,000, after which it is treated as a taxable benefit-in-kind.
Season tickets are most often associated with rail travel but many bus services allow you to buy season tickets in advance too. As well as being financially attractive, season tickets also reduce the need for employees to make sure they have enough cash every day.
6. Access to learning/wellbeing materials
Stress researcher Dr David Lewis says that commuters can experience “greater stress than fighter pilots going into battle or riot policemen.” Despite the non-life threatening nature of the commuters’ stress, the negative feelings are heightened because they can’t control the situation.
The solution is to focus on something other than the feelings of helplessness. Organisations can provide a range of materials that are more or less relevant depending on the mode of transport employees are using. Drivers benefit from audio books or relaxation tapes, while those on trains can use books or learning videos.
Not everything is suitable for every employee, so the best option is to subsidise or provide a range of options and let employees choose. Providing opportunities in the workplace to continue or put into practice any learning begun during commuting can help staff motivate themselves to take advantage of these learning opportunities.
Tackling anything that zaps energy is important for organisations focused on the wellbeing and performance of their staff. Take a look at our article on six ways you can take action on improving energy management in the workplace.