The Hamilton Spectator

Should you be paid for your work commute?

- NAVNEET ALANG NAVNEET ALANG IS A FREELANCE CONTRIBUTI­NG COLUMNIST FOR TORSTAR.

In the profession­al world, everyone knows there are always subjects like politics or religion that one shouldn’t discuss around the proverbial water cooler. But in the 2020s, there is relatively new threelette­r acronym that folks would do well to steer clear of at work: RTO.

That at least is the sentiment out of a survey by an American background check company, which suggested that about half of managers consider a “passionate dislike” for return-to-office policies a major red flag. It is yet another sign that working from home, far from being a mere additional perk or a discussion of policy, represents a deep, almost generation­al shift in the post-COVID world.

On one side are those CEOs and owners who are adamant that it should have been a temporary phenomenon; and on the other are both workers and management who see it as a permanent shift.

At the core of the issue thus far has been an assumed debate over which model is best for productivi­ty, creativity, teamwork and profits.

But there is another, less-discussed aspect of the RTO fight that’s driving resistance: commuting to work is expensive. Those who get to work from home don’t just benefit from reduced stress or more time; they have more left in their pockets at the end of the month, too.

Perhaps companies looking to ask its workers to return to the office should consider a radical option: they should pay up.

Consider: A recent survey by Robert Half Canada stated that nearly a third of Canadians cited the cost of getting to work as part of the reason they resisted the commute.

It makes sense. Canada is a suburban country and outside of a couple of key population centres, people mostly drive. Gas has been costlier these past few years, but more than that, the cost of cars has skyrockete­d. A new vehicle now averages more than $60,000. Even used cars are somehow creeping toward $40,000 as an average.

Yet, there are also a host of tackedon costs to commuting and RTO. People need additional work attire that they may not require otherwise. There are the inevitable lunches or dinners that come when one doesn’t have time to do meal prep. For parents, there may be additional child care costs that are easier to avoid when working from home and picking up children from school is an option.

Put simply, it isn’t just the time and stress of a commute. It’s that in order to make money at work you have to end up spending your own money, leaving you with less.

Should companies thus pay up? Alas, according to the Ontario Employment Standards Act, covering commuting costs isn’t required. That rule is based on the idea that only time spent at work is considered “work time.” As such, there is no current legal case for recompense. All the same, many progressiv­e companies have taken to heart a growing chorus of complaints about work-life balance. They have instituted child care, mental-health programs, gyms and more.

If an organizati­on wishes to have its employees return to the office, is a stipend or pay bump dependent on a commute really that far fetched? And yet, few companies do offer a commuting benefit, for the very obvious reason that they don’t have to. It speaks to an unavoidabl­e reality of work: the power is in the hands of the people who pay you.

Yet, that doesn’t mean change is impossible, whether that change is either an admission that, yes, commuting is a hidden cost of work, or, conversely, that RTO isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and often has to do with sunk costs in real estate as much as anything else.

At its most abstract ideal, work is a harmonious place in which management guides workers to put their skills to use, who in turn feel fulfilled doing so, and that the collective output of that effort produces value for society at large and profit for the company.

In the real world, though, work is often a push and pull between the profit-seeking motives of a company and its management and the workers who produce that value. What COVID highlighte­d for many was that white collar work was predicated on a series of unspoken agreements about how much time you would commit to work — in commuting, in being available outside regular hours, and more.

Yet, even now in 2024, it’s clear we live in a new era. And even as workfrom-home declines from its pandemic highs and the calls for RTO grow, perhaps workers who are now being asked to commute can make a radical demand: if you want me to come to work, then pay me for my time.

 ?? JOHN RENNISON HAMILTON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO ?? Few companies offer a commuting benefit, for the very obvious reason that they don’t have to, Navneet Alang writes.
JOHN RENNISON HAMILTON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO Few companies offer a commuting benefit, for the very obvious reason that they don’t have to, Navneet Alang writes.

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