The rising cost of a gallon of gas has had many effects on employment and the workforce. Most of this attention has centered on a lack of jobs and hiring in a bad economy. But what about businesses that are hiring? The unintended consequence of higher gas prices is that it is reducing the miles that lower wage seasonal workers will travel. In the hospitality industry, where more than 50% of the workforce is part time or seasonal, this can be a real problem.
For businesses close to major population density or public transportation, the effect might be small. However, looking at our properties at Westfield as an example, we can see how this can become problematic. Westfield Center, Ohio is located in a less populated region in southwest Medina County, Ohio. When gas prices were lower, we were hiring seasonal workers for our hospitality operations from the Akron area in Summit County (26.4 miles or 31 minutes according to Google maps) and even the southern suburbs of the Cleveland area in Cuyahoga County (43.7 miles or 51 minutes from downtown according to Google maps).
As gas prices keep rising, this has become too far for most to travel. To a minimum wage employee, this could mean two hours of their earnings each day are spent on gas. If we make the broad generalization that these areas will not produce seasonal candidates for our business, we lose a total population of over 1.8 million people in these two counties alone. In comparison, Medina County has a population of only 172,000.
So what is the answer? My guess is that it won’t be higher wages. The margins in hospitality can be very small, so wage increases just won’t work for most business models. Here are a few things that I’ve seen employed to try and help:
- Have workers car pool from an area by scheduling them at similar times.
- Gas card giveaways based on attendance or high customer service scores.
- Reduce split shifts that can create multiple travel times throughout the day.
What impact has this had on your business? Do you have any great ways to assist employees with this growing problem?
Chad Caplilnger is manager of the Blair Center at Westfield Center. He has 14 years of hospitality industry experience in corporate and private restaurants, conference centers, event planning and hotel/restaurant management. Chad is a certified trainer for TIPS (Training for Intervention ProcedureS), a skills-based training program that is designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunk driving.
Image source: futureatlas.com/blog/