Lovewell’s logic: Should employers act on employees’ commuting concerns?

Here at Employee Benefits, the numerous press releases we receive on a daily basis can be a good temperature check of the issues currently facing employers and their workforces. Not surprisingly, as the UK continues to open up post-lockdown, the focus for many has been on the return to workplaces and what this means for organisations’ long-term working models.

Much of the focus this week has been on how employees feel about returning to the workplace. A key concern for many appears, not to be the act of actually returning to a physical workplace, but rather their daily commute. Research by absence management systems provider E-days, for example, found more than a third (34%) of the 100 workers surveyed cited the commute as more of a concern than the health implications of returning to an office environment.

Road repair firm Roadmender Asphalt, meanwhile, used a representative sample to calculate that just under two-thirds (65%) of Brits would no longer feel comfortable commuting to work via public transport, while 69% would prefer to cycle to work rather than use public transport in order to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

Some individuals feel so strongly about the issue that they would be prepared to sacrifice a portion of their salary if it meant they could continue to work from home. Research published by Insolvency Support at the end of July, for example, found that overall, the average employee would take an annual pay cut of approximately £2,665 (equivalent to £222 a month) in order to continue working from home when the pandemic ends.

With some employees clearly experiencing significant concerns around commuting back to the workplace, what does this mean for employers? Under normal circumstances, how employees reach the workplace each day is unlikely to have been much of a concern for organisations, beyond perhaps providing benefits such as season ticket loans or bikes-for-work schemes to make employees’ commutes a little easier should they desire.

However, we are not currently living in normal times, so are employees more likely to look to their employer for support and assistance if they are required to return to the workplace? And do organisations have a greater duty of care to take steps to ensure their workforce can travel safely?

The UK has reportedly seen employees return to their workplaces at a much slower rate than many European counterparts; would providing more assistance with travel, perhaps in the form of alternatives to public transport make a difference here?

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While this may be one more thing to add to an already-packed business agenda, the difference to employees’ mental wellbeing may well be invaluable.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell