Why the commute should be addressed in every organization’s open enrollment this year

This year’s open enrollment promises to be quite different from seasons past. Massive disruptions impacting everything from the economy at large to individual daily routines have employees re-evaluating the significance of their total rewards, what they prioritize, and how they plan to make important personal budget decisions next year.

Successful organizations are looking ahead of the curve to upgrade their total rewards to include new employee benefits–like improved wellness offerings, flexible remote work policies, and increased health and safety measures–that extend beyond the four walls of the workplace.

As your organization plans for open enrollment, it could be a miss not to provide something that shows how you plan to support employees in a crucial twice-daily workforce ritual: their commute.

If you’re part of a transportation or facilities team and need to make the case to your partners in HR, we’ve provided you with three main reasons to include your transportation program in 2021 open enrollment communications as you plan for the year ahead.

1. The commute is a core concern for employees in feeling confident about getting to and from the workplace.

According to JLL, the commute is one of the top three re-entry concerns of all employees. More specifically, commuting via public transit is the leading concern among office employees for their re-entry to the post-COVID-19 workplace. A recent Salesforce survey points out that more than half of employees say their employer is not ready to bring staff back to the workplace–at a time when more than 75% of U.S. employees believe COVID-19 will have a negative impact on their company.

For essential workers who rely on public transportation, their commute experience may be more difficult or more unsettling due to reduced service frequency, cut routes, or an inability to adequately keep a safe distance from others.

Given these less than favorable feelings, showcasing how you support employee commute needs during a key touchpoint like open enrollment can increase their confidence and instill trust in your company’s future.

2. This is a crucial year to demonstrate the power of your total rewards and the value you place on employee experience.

As economic pressures impact organizations in different ways and unpredictable health care costs emerge, it’s understandable that benefits might be subject to change this year. According to a Mercer survey, only 37% of employers say they don’t anticipate adjusting benefits for 2021. As organizations take an extra hard look and try to make decisions about what stays and goes amidst uncertainty, one thing is for sure: the employee commute matters.

The commute touches virtually all aspects of the employee experience, from top talent using it as a determining factor when choosing where to work to influencing employee engagement and retention over time. In a COVID-era,  the commute is also a meaningful health and safety issue (read more about why carpooling is a safe transportation option for your employees). Because the feeling of safety is a core component of the employee experience–and employee experience extends beyond the four walls and traditional 9-5 hours of your workplace–it’s natural and necessary to integrate the commute into open enrollment and any time you communicate your total rewards.

The 2019/2020 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes survey found 39% of employees would rather receive more substantial benefits than additional salary/wages or bonuses.  If you’re doing something to ease your employees’ commute–whether through pre-tax accounts or by sponsoring various modes of transportation–commuter benefits are an investment in your employees.  Create a cross-functional partnership with your HR and benefits teams to ensure employees are aware of the breadth and value of the rewards you offer.

3. Employees’ pre-tax commuter benefits allocations may be shifting.

A recent Salesforce survey forecasts that the share of commuters using mass transit commutes will fall 29%—from 24% of commuters to 17%—when they return to their workplaces. With such significant disruption, particularly in urban, transit-reliant cities, changes to pre-tax commuter benefits decisions may be top-of-mind as employees evaluate whether they’ll take the risk or shift to another mode, like driving alone. If employees end up making a decision about their commute through the lens of their pre-tax account, they may miss out from a lack of visibility or awareness of any other transportation programs you offer, like dedicated shuttles, micro-mobility options, or a carpool program.

Understanding all commute options will help employees make better decisions, and they won’t regret locking up dollars into something that might not be as valuable or desirable in the short- or long-term.

If you have a carpool program, it’s a great time to emphasize its financial benefits–driving with co-workers can reduce commute costs by 50% or more, not to mention, reducing costs for employers to maintain parking or manage the influx of single occupancy vehicles. Why not make these savings front and center for employees to be aware of, especially for those who may have been displaced by public transit availability, don’t have access to a car, or have financial problems that are negatively affecting their life?

Time to take action

Even if workers aren’t currently commuting, it’s still on their mind when they think about their eventual return. Sharing an annual benefits update without speaking to the programs you have in place to solve a top employee concern or pain point may leave employees feeling disappointed and uncertain, despite your best intentions.

Make it easy on everyone: get ahead of the curve and take action to integrate the commute into your open enrollment communications to show how much you value their overall employee experience–at the workplace and to and from it.

Not sure where to start

If you’re looking for ideas for how to connect with employees during open enrollment this year, check out these 6 strategies for remote benefits communication. The commute can easily be included in all of them.

If you’re part of a transportation or facilities team and unsure where to begin with approaching your HR team about benefits communications, our recent blog Driving change: How transportation teams can create effective partnerships with HR has great advice from fellow transportation leaders. TDM professionals have an important responsibility to raise the conversation internally, become more integrated into planning, and recommend that the organization start to think less about transportation on its own and more as a key part of the constellation of options and how impactful it is to employee experience.

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