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Employers Try to Ease Workers' Pain at the Gas Pumps

Unless you work within walking distance of your home - or inside your home - the seemingly never-ending rise in the cost of gasoline impacts your work life. And chances are the potential cost of commuting has entered your mind if you're looking for a new job, too.

Some employers are becoming empathetic to the fact that soaring gas prices are emptying their employees' wallets, and are considering ways to soften the blow. Why? Because it's leading many employees — more than one in every 10, according to a recent survey by Opinion Research Corp. — to consider leaving their jobs. The potential drop in productivity would be just too much to bear.

If you're in the job market, you can use this newfound "empathy" to your advantage as you negotiate with your current or prospective employer. Here are options many employers have been considering (and some have already implemented), according to the survey:

  • Four-day workweeks. John Challenger of outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas told CNN.com that 23% of companies his firm polled have a four-day workweek option. The upside here? You cut your mileage by 20% a week and have a three-day weekend. The downside (unless you don't mind it): You're working 10-hour days, 4 days a week.
  • Working from home (aka telecommuting). While this will certainly keep you away from the gas station, it isn't for everyone. Ask yourself (and your boss) if you can be as productive at home as you can at work. Or, would you mind being at home alone (or close to alone) when you like being around people? If the answer to either is no, you shouldn't consider this option.
  • Gas allowances. About 11% of respondents in the Opinion Research survey said their employers were providing gas allowances to cover the higher costs of commuting. Other options include discount gas cards and emergency funds for car repairs.

Some employers also participate in government-based programs aimed at assisting workers with commuting costs. Here are a couple examples:

  • Incentives to use public transportation. The federal government provides a little help here (I say little because it used to be bigger) in the form of pre-tax transit benefits of up to $115 a month. Your state or community may provide further incentives. Many commuters are seeing the benefit of leaving their cars at home. The Boston-area transit system, for instance, has experienced a ridership jump of about 6% so far this year.
  • New or expanded carpool or vanpool programs. That public transit incentive can also be used for riding in a privately contracted carpool or vanpool. If you organize your own carpool, the government offers a pre-tax parking benefit of up to $220 if you must pay to park. (For more information, see page 17 of this IRS document.)

If a job change would lengthen your commute, keep these in mind before you send your resume and cover letter. If they offer you the job and have at least one of these options available to ease the sting of rising gas prices, the transition may be a bit easier than you may have thought.

Does the rising cost of gasoline leave you nervous about commuting to and from work, or searching for another job? Please share your thoughts and ideas.

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