Providers ease pain at the pump

Sunday, August 10, 2008

YARMOUTH, Maine - Even though high gas prices are squeezing their profit margins, some providers are going the extra mile to take some of the pressure off of employees.

Shield Healthcare, for example, moved up the date of an annual wage increase for its hourly employees from Jan. 1, 2009, to July 1, 2008. The provider estimates some of its employees spend 20% of their paychecks to fill their gas tanks.

"We've had a small amount of employees express concern that they may need to look for a job closer to home," said Jennifer Puleo, human resources manager for the Valencia, Calif.-based provider. "We were going to give them the increases anyway, but this showed a lot of goodwill."

Last week, a gallon of gas cost $3.88, on average, in the United States. That's up from $2.84 last year.

Carolina Ferreiro, president of Miami-based Pharma-Express, uses a new gas incentive program as a recruitment tool for new employees.

"I wanted to hire quality people but couldn't pay what a (more established) company could pay," she said. "I surveyed staff and found the No. 1 concern was the cost of gas. Based on productivity and meeting certain expectations and goals, every 15 days I pay for a tank of gas."

Ferreiro said the program currently costs her about $800 a month, but it's money well spent.

"Employees are really motivated, and I am seeing the reward in their extra efforts," she said.

A less expensive way to help employees is to encourage carpooling. In addition to bumping up their wage increase, Shield has created a carpool board for its employees to explore ridesharing options.

"People can get shy or don't know how to approach finding a carpool," said Puleo. "And we are trying to be flexible with schedules. Not all units work the same hours, so requests for accommodation to get into a carpool get priority."