If you could spend little or no money and address an issue that affects nearly half of your employees’ job satisfaction, would you? How about if you could save an employee hundreds of dollars a year in taxes? Help improve your workers’ overall health? Increase productivity? All with little or no cost to you?

Most employers would jump at such opportunities, and many have, by encouraging employees to use alternative methods of getting to and from work each day.

It's true: Commuting affects a lot more than the time before and after work. It also affects how well employees function in the workplace and their quality of life beyond the job. As a result, it is worth the effort - and minimal expense - for employers to help employees improve the commuting experience.

How much does the commuting experience affect your workplace? Consider these stats from a 2011 Harris Interactive poll for The Workforce Institute:

  • 1/3 of employees consider the commute when choosing a job.
  • 48 percent said commuting has a significant effect on job satisfaction.
  • Some 5 million U.S. employees have called in sick to avoid their commutes.

Unfortunately, in Central Indiana, commuting usually means one person traveling in a car alone, a method that is the not just most expensive but also the least beneficial for the employee and employer.

Let's look at the financial impact first. The federal government offers tax incentives to people who use alternative transportation, and will even provide vehicles to groups of vanpoolers. Employers can help employees set aside pretax dollars for commuting costs, quickly creating an employee benefit that carries no cost to the employer and helping to save some families hundreds of dollars a year. Employees who truly commit to public transit can eliminate the need for a car, saving themselves thousands of dollars in gas, parking, maintenance and insurance.

Then there are the health effects. People who bike or walk to work obviously get more exercise than people who drive, but even mass transit users see health benefits. According to the Federal Transit Administration, transit riders tend to walk 19 minutes each day, while most people walk only six minutes each day. In addition, recent studies have linked driving in traffic to increased health problems such as the flu and headaches and even cardiovascular disease and strokes.

Finally, we can look at quality of life. Studies suggest that people who bike, walk or take transit to work arrive more focused and ready for the day. People who use mass transit benefit from making better use of the commute time. They can catch up on email and work, read, listen to music or simply rest.

Once upon a time, employers considered the commute to be outside their area of influence. However, they’ve come to realize that they benefit when they help employees have a better trip to and from work. As a result, they offer flex spending accounts or commuter subsidies... provide premium parking spots for carpools and vanpools... include commuting services at  benefit fairs... provide showers and other amenities for people who bike or walk to work... or find other ways to encourage their employees to stop driving alone each morning and evening.

In other words, they're doing what they can to help employees have a better "commuter experience" so that they, in turn, have a better bottom line and be an employer of choice.

Lori Kaplan is executive director of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority.