Will gas prices keep employees at home?

The cost to employees of filling their gas tank may make some think twice about driving to work. What can employers do to recognize the stress on employees and keep them working?

screen at a gas pump
It is important to recognize any strains on employees, including the strain of high fuel prices, and to take steps, where possible, to reduce barriers to work. Photo credit: Stan Moore, Michigan State University Extension.

Among your farm employees are some who drive old trucks and cars, vehicles that get poor gas mileage. My own truck is currently getting 16.9 miles per gallon (mpg) and when I pull up to the pump to fill up, the meter rings up a total well over $100. It makes me question some trips.

Will some of your employees question making the trip to work because of those prices? That’s what Jeremy, a dairy farm owner, asked me today. If their vehicle uses of a gallon of gas each direction to work, then they work the first hour just to buy the gas to get there and back. That is not a motivating factor for work. Motivating employees, and in turn, retaining them, is often best accomplished by caring about them as fellow humans.

Many employers are already dealing with employee retention issues. Absenteeism has also been a problem at many farms. Now employees have an added reason not to show up – no gas money. How do you, as an employer, keep them coming to work?

It is important to recognize any strains on employees, including the strain of high fuel prices, and to take steps, where possible, to reduce barriers to work. First, consider how many hours employees come to work. On smaller farms or farms with part-time employees, it may be that some employees are working four or fewer hours on some days. For these employees, the higher fuel price represents a larger share of their paycheck.

Are there ways that you can meet employee schedules and yet have them at the job for more hours to help justify the cost of getting to and from work? There may be nothing that you can do but having the conversation with them acknowledges the strain of fuel prices on those employees. Maybe you could incentivize carpooling for people with the same schedules, or allow farm vehicles to go home on days when the employee is using it for running errands. Be open to creative practices that will benefit your employees and that are economical for the farm.

In the case of this farm, Jeremy talked about giving employees gas cards every now and then. Gas cards are not meant to make up for all the price increase at the pump, but to acknowledge the pain, and to do something, even though not everything, about it.

Jeremy asked some questions: Do you give the same amount to all employees whether they live close or far? In his case, our conclusion was “yes”, you do, even though the impact of fuel price is not the same for all employees, because it treats everyone the same.

Another question was whether two brothers who are dropped off by their father should get gas cards and our response was again positive, knowing that family can often determine whether employees will continue coming to work.

Being a leader of your employees means working to meet the needs of your employees, even as they work to meet your goals. When that is your attitude and your plan, employee retention is often improved, and absenteeism reduced. Consider the impact of rising fuel costs on your employees and take action before you get the call, or simply the no-show, on the basis of an empty fuel tank.

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