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4:00 AM 31st July 2021
business

Saturday Essay: Claim For The Commute - Is This The Answer Employees Have Been Crying Out For?

Godfrey Ryan, CEO of school transport provider Kura, asks if there is a commute solution for employees.

Image by Dave Francis from Pixabay
Image by Dave Francis from Pixabay
The events of the past year have irrevocably changed the ways in which we work. Months of enforced home-working due to social distancing restrictions have meant that, for many industries, the concept of permanent office working is being phased out in favour of hybrid, or even entirely remote, working models.

With this shift to our working patterns naturally comes a corresponding evolution in how we travel to and from work. The commute has been a daily pain point for employees for decades now and, once shown another viable way of working, many are less than enthusiastic to return to the previous status quo. Given this, it is clear that employers must step up and do their part to ease the burden of commuting for their staff or risk losing out in the competition for top talent.

By encouraging workers to embrace alternatives such as shared transport, companies can unlock new levels of profitability and employee satisfaction...

The newly-proposed ‘Claim for the Commute’ scheme, in which companies would pay for 50% of their employees’ commuting fares, is designed to do exactly this. The proposed scheme follows a report which laid bare just how significantly commuting can damage both employees’ bank balance and general wellbeing.

But, admirable as this proposed scheme is, is it the long-term solution to the commute we have needed for decades?

Let’s take a closer look at why, and how, the daily commute needs to evolve, as well as whether the Claim for the Commute is the answer employees, and employers, have been looking for.

Image by Ulrike Leone
Image by Ulrike Leone
Why the commute needs to evolve

The daily commute, far from being a simple buffer between home and work, is one of the most stressful parts of the day for many employees. Whether it be traffic jams, delays to public transport or trying to cycle to work during rush hour, travelling to work is currently far more taxing for the workforce than it should be.

The damaging effects of a stressful commute are even backed by science, with research from the University of West England having suggested that difficult commutes can even create long-term mental health issues (both acute and chronic) such as stress, anxiety and even depression.

Looking at the wider societal impact, cars are used by more than 50% of the population to drive to work, the majority low occupancy – often by necessity due to a lack of suitable alternatives – and are a major contributor to toxic air pollution. Traditionally-fuelled vehicles produce significant amounts of nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants; all of which pose a significant risk to health over the long term, increasing the risk of respiratory conditions such as asthma, as well as certain forms of cancer.

Given this, it comes as little surprise that many employees are reluctant to return to their place of work in the coming months. Indeed, according to a nationally-representative survey conducted by transport technology specialist, Kura, polling 2,000 workers, nearly one fifth (19.1%) of workers plan to never commute again post pandemic, rising to 21.8% of workers based in Yorkshire.

Godfrey Ryan
Godfrey Ryan
Looking more closely at why this is, the main reason we uncovered was increased concern over infection control and social distancing on the daily commute, which was cited by 36% of respondents.

Unsurprisingly, delays, stress, and congestion were also a recurrent issue, cited by 31.6% of respondents in total, and parking availability also factored highly. Notably, however, only 13.8% of respondents cited financial cost indicating that – while clearly a significant issue for employees – solutions must look beyond simply alleviating the cost of commuting if we are to see real change in the areas that matter most.

Are employers doing enough to support their staff?

Taking the above issues into account, it is clear that employees are likely to need an incentive to brave the daily commute once more as we continue to work towards normality. Given this, socially and sustainably responsible organisations should give serious thought to how they can better support employees on their commute.

Photo by Jordan Brierley on Unsplash
Photo by Jordan Brierley on Unsplash
Offering this level of support is crucial to enhancing employer brand and attracting new top talent – particularly at more junior levels, with 70% of graduates, and 73% of junior executives, crying out for help with their commute. In fact, nearly two-thirds of employees (63%) report that they would be more inclined to work for a prospective employer if they offered help in this area, rising to 70% of workers in Yorkshire – a UK-high reading.

Unfortunately, all too many employers may be missing the mark as it stands, meaning that they run the risk of a dissatisfied workforce and, worse, crippling talent shortages. As it stands, just 16.3% of businesses have expressed a desire to monitor or support employees with their commute moving forwards, indicating that there is a long way to go.

Why support must go beyond financial backing

Initiatives such as Claim for the Commute are certainly a step in the right direction, and a much-welcomed sign that employees’ struggles are being recognised. However, merely reducing the cost of the commute does nothing to alleviate many of the other issues cited by staff above, such as delays, stress and lack of suitable transport infrastructure – to say nothing of the significant damage the cars on our road during rush hour currently do to the environment. Making it cheaper for employees to fill up their cars is not the solution, and a more nuanced approach is required.

Encouragingly, our experience is that senior management are keen to do more to support their staff, but not knowing how to turn good intention into clear action is a sticking point. Luckily, there are multiple ways in which employers can better support staff on their daily journeys.

Flexible alternatives to single-occupancy car use, deployed with the specific needs of each business at front of mind, are key. Specifically, alternatives to single-occupancy car use such as shared coach or minibus transport would simultaneously meet the needs of employees, help businesses meet their net-zero obligations by taking cars off the road, and position them as an employer of choice moving forwards.

Shared vehicles offer staff a safe, COVID-secure and luxury means of travelling to and from work, while offering a relaxed environment in which to decompress from the stresses of the working day.

Looking at the more practical benefits, many workplaces, such as out-of-town logistics hubs, factories and retail parks, are often not well-served by public transport, requiring staff to either drive or endure a long, difficult journey by other means. Employer-managed shared transport solves these problems by providing a door-to-door solution that suits the needs of the workforce, with pickup points that work for all on shift agreed-upon in advance to ensure the most convenient solution.

With employers for whom shared transport is not currently possible, greater investment in transport technologies are another solution to consider. While only one in five businesses (21.8%) currently invest in technologies to aid with the commute, such as parking technologies, booking apps or route management software, employee demand for these technologies sits significantly higher.

For example, 39.6% of employees would like their employer to invest in route management technologies to aid their daily journey, which comes as little surprise considering how many commutes – particularly those in built-up urban areas such as Leeds or Sheffield – regularly require multiple changes to routes to accommodate for route delays, diversions or public transport failures.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
For a truly optimal result, the above solutions can be combined into one, uniting employer-managed shared transport with technology such as dedicated booking apps and route management software. This would ensure maximum efficiency and convenience for employee and employer alike.

The time for action is now

While many are excited by the prospect of Claim for the Commute, before making any wide-ranging decisions, businesses should consider whether subsidising the cost each worker’s commute is really the answer. This could end up becoming extremely costly for employers, and simply making a financial contribution does not tackle the sustainability issues related to the commute, nor the practical issues faced by workers. Employers should therefore consider a more cost-effective solution which also aids in decarbonising the commute for employees.

From an environmental, financial and safety perspective, shared transport, underpinned by innovative technology, is the way forward. Dedicated, employer-managed shared transport will significantly improve a company’s external reputation and boost employee productivity, while enhancing brand reputation with all key stakeholders from investors, to employees, through to customers.

By encouraging workers to embrace alternatives such as shared transport, companies can unlock new levels of profitability and employee satisfaction – all while improving the businesses’ carbon footprint. Investing in this area now could very well drive transformative business benefits, both now and in the months and years to come.
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