employee health

Smart Employers Find Ways to Ease Commuting Woes

Smart Employers Find Ways to Ease Commuting Woes
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Smart businesses seek to improve productivity by keeping their employees happy and healthy, and making sure that that talent sticks around. And, more and more, companies are accomplishing this aim by crafting policies around the way those employees commute.

Related: 8 Tips for an Awesome, Healthier Commute

There are a number of ways to incentivize various mobility options, but what works especially well is a company-wide commuting policy giving everyone in the business clear guidelines and the tools to make their commutes easier and healthier.

Why employers should be invested in their employees’ commutes

It may be a surprise to learn that commuting is closely aligned with health: Regular exercise, after all, improves physical and mental health; and that means lower insurance premiums, increased employee morale and performance, and fewer sick days. 

How does this connection work? Research in recent years has repeatedly shown that sitting behind the wheel of a car for long periods of time leads to higher blood sugar, cholesterol, risk of depression, anxiety, blood pressure and other negative health outcomes.

At the same time, commutes are increasing in length in just about every U.S. city. Blame growing suburban populations, a recovering economy putting more people to work and an increase in families who may want to live close to a central business district but can't afford to.

On the plus side, active commutes that employ more transit use, walking and bicycling have been linked to better overall health. Even taking a bus and then walking or biking between the bus stop and your final destination burns calories and gets extra steps in.

Related: When This Boss Walks 10 Miles a Day, She Leads a Much Healthier Team

Sure, your employees can always get a gym membership. But if someone sits in a car 90 minutes a day, he or she might not have the time or desire to add in treadmill time. That's why it's advantageous for employers to encourage active commutes by linking them to wellness in employee benefits, and by helping employees avoid traffic while boosting their health.

Another reason why offering employees the resources and support they need for alternative ways to commute makes sense is that an entire generation of up-and-coming workers expects it. In fact, the youngest of the milliennial generation are driving less; and, more specifically, they're commuting by car less often than do the older generations. Older millennials and Generation X'ers are also shifting away from driving.

The message? If your company wants to recruit and retain talent, it’s time to start supporting employees who don’t want to drive to work during rush hour.

How to shape a commuting policy

More and more options and tools are available today for developing a healthy and active commuting policy, especially for employers in urban areas. This can be as simple as rethinking parking: Businesses are starting to offer employees payments equal to what would have gone to a parking space -- if those employees choose to commute by bike, transit or carpool or on foot.

Policies developed around remote work and flexible hours are other great methods for boosting  productivity and allowing employees to avoid rush hour altogether. Dell launched its Connected Workplace program in 2009. That program allows 25 percent of the company's staff worldwide to work remotely or work flexible hours -- which allows commutes to occur before or after peak rush hours.

The company estimates that since 2013 alone, its program has saved Dell $21 million in office space, time wasted in traffic and electricity bills. "Flexible work solutions can help any organization to reduce their facilities' environmental footprint while simultaneously fostering creativity and collaboration," Dell has said of its flexible work program. "It also helps empower team members to do their best work -- whenever and wherever that may be. "

In fact, according to the Global Evolving Workforce Study commissioned by Dell and Intel, 86 percent of the 4,700 study respondents surveyed said they believed they were just as productive or even more so at home than in the office.

Partnering with organizations like transportation-management associations, local transit authorities and even other businesses can also help employers offer commute options to their employees. In Austin, Texas, near where Dell is based, a group of tech companies in the downtown area formed the Brazos Tech District, to address common problems, including transportation.

The group partnered with local transit agency Capital Metro to offer discounted monthly transit passes, and has worked to encourage local property owners to include bike facilities in downtown buildings.

Related: Why Are Companies Still Avoiding Telecommuting?

Your company can get in on this trend, too: Whether that means incentivizing transit use or engaging in company-wide commute competitions, you'll find plenty of options for helping workers find a commute that boosts productivity, saves time that otherwise would be spent in traffic and improves morale.