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Should employers pay for your commute?

·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
A passenger wearing a face mask travels on the Central line tube, in London. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters
A passenger wearing a face mask travels on the Central line tube, in London. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

With final COVID-19 restrictions set to lift in July, employers are debating whether to let people continue working from home. While some are keen to return to office, others are hoping they’ll be able to carry on working remotely and avoid the dreaded commute.

Commuting is known to be one of our least favourite activities. One survey of 5,500 commuters in six European cities found the journey to be more stressful than the actual job.

Another study found that those who commuted for over an hour were 33% more likely to suffer from depression and 21% more likely to be obese than those whose journeys to work took them half an hour or less. And it’s costly, too. Commuting costs an average of £146 ($200) a month – totalling £135,871 over a lifetime.

In the last year, however, many people have saved money by working from home. Research by MoneySuperMarket revealed home-workers have saved an average of £126 per month on commuting since the first nationwide lockdown in March 2020. And now, a think tank is calling for companies to cover half of all commuter costs when ‘work from home’ restrictions end.

Autonomy is calling for a ‘Claim the Commute’ scheme where half of all fares are covered by the workplace. It argues the scheme is not only fairer, but would incentivise more environmentally sustainable transport and significantly improve workers’ incomes by shielding them from expensive fares.

READ MORE: How to get a flexible rail season ticket as they launch in Britain

But is this really a viable option for businesses?

“With rising living and housing costs in cities, and increased durations of commuting, it may be feasible that employers pay commuting costs,” says careers, business and HR expert Laura Trendall Morrison, founder of the GameChanger Consultancy.

“A typical season ticket to London can now be in excess of £6,000 from dormitory towns and commutes up to 2 hours door to door. Particularly where employees have had to move onto home working or agile contracts, following the pandemic, both time and expense of commuting should be contributed or paid by the employer.”

According to the think tank Autonomy, such a scheme would save the working population billions of pounds every year, and will help rein in extortionate transport fares. The organisation also calls commuting costs “hidden taxes” that fall disproportionately on commuters, but ultimately benefit employers.

“Employees would benefit from being free to base their location and commuting decisions on fair compensation for that additional time,” says Morrison. “This would encourage smarter and less environmentally damaging working practices to be adopted, along with improved quality of life.”

It would also mean employees only travel and commute when necessary, which has the potential to reduce tiredness and boost productivity, Morrison adds.

“Equally, allowing employees to live where they choose and paying commuting expenses would save on direct salaries and on office space expenses per centrally located employee,” she says.

While socially and sustainably responsible organisations should be seriously considering supporting employees on their commute, there are downsides to this idea.

READ MORE: Why a 'virtual commute' isn't such a bad idea for remote workers

“Those organisations that demonstrate an interest and commitment towards employees’ wellbeing will benefit from an enhanced employer brand and subsequently attract new top talent to the business,” says Godfrey Ryan, CEO of the transport company Kura.

“However, is partially subsidising the cost of a worker’s commute 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. Employers should therefore consider a more cost-effective solution which also aids in decarbonising the commute for employees.”

An alternative could be shared transport solutions or an employee shuttle, which could make commuting less costly and most sustainable. However, not everyone will want to spend even more time with their colleagues.

Allowing employees to work remotely part-time could be a better answer. Many businesses are considering a shift to hybrid work practices, which would cut down commuting time too.

According to a recent survey of more than 1,000 people, nearly nine out of 10 workers want to have the option to work remotely once offices reopen. Instead of commuting to the office every day, workplaces will act as a central hub for meetings and collaboration - saving employees time and money.

Watch; How to negotiate a pay rise

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