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Peter Jones

Expert opinion: Has the return of the commute raised HR issues in your business?

Knowing how employees are getting to work is important for employers, and as the commute continues to make a comeback, some HR-related issues may start to arise, says Peter Jones of the HR Dept.

The BBC has reported that rush hour trips on the underground are at their highest since March 2020. This suggests that more elements of pre-pandemic life, such as commuting to work, have returned.

Some people will be pleased about leaving their home office and commuting again: new starters, for example, who are yet to meet their co-workers; or those who relish their commute as a time to unwind between finishing the working day and transitioning into the evening.

Others will not be so keen – fearing ticket price hikes, a return to crowded carriages, or traffic jams.

Factors such as working hours, location, and access to transportation links, mean that one person’s commute can drastically differ to someone else’s. The quality of this journey can have an impact on mood and set the tone for the rest of the day.

Knowing how employees are getting to work is important for employers, and as the commute continues to make a comeback, some HR-related issues may start to arise.

Potential barriers caused by the commute

A challenging journey

Businesses that have had employees successfully working from home during the pandemic may find that employees with a challenging commute are less enthused about returning to the workplace. Dreading the return of their commute, they may suggest that they are more productive working from home.

Ultimately, if you need staff to be in the office, they are going to have to face their commute to return. It is their responsibility to get to work safely and on time.

With that said, flexible or hybrid-working that allows some time working from home, or off-peak start and finish times can be a reasonable compromise if it can also work for your business.

If an employee raises concerns about their safety getting to work, it’s crucial to speak with them to understand more. If the conversation gets complicated, we can help.

Price hikes

Another barrier that the return of commuting may raise is expense. Those contending with higher commuting costs than before lockdown could be motivated to ask for a pay rise in order to return to the office.

A debate ensued over the summer, with some suggesting that employers should cover travel costs. Business owners are unlikely to award a pay increase based on that alone, especially if the employee decided to move further away during lockdown assuming that they could continue to work remotely.

This conversation may well come up so it’s best for employers to be prepared. Having a pay policy and salary bands based on job evaluation and market rates is a way to be seen to treat all staff fairly.

Registering with the Cycle to Work Scheme, providing off-peak hours, or helping to set-up a carpool system for those who live near each other, can also combat a problematic daily commute.

Reframing the commute

Pre-pandemic it was not unusual to see people with their laptops open or taking work calls during their commute. However, some European countries are changing their ways since the introduction of the Right to Disconnect.

Although not yet a legal requirement in the UK, the Right to Disconnect reduces the risk of burnout by allowing employees to not respond to work communications outside of working hours, without fear of repercussion.

To keep your team feeling happy and healthy, a less stressful commute could feature a podcast, meditation app, or book. If you’re worried that an employee is close to burnout, you could share some recommendations to help them unwind. They are likely to come back to work better if they do.

Peter Jones runs the HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire www.hrdept.co.uk/offices/south-west/swindon

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