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How $200-A-Barrel Oil Might Affect The Workplace

June 28th, 2008 · Leave A Comment

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Doesn’t it kind of feel like all sort of bills are coming due lately?

I’ve written before about how at we’re seeing the cost of the commute become a major factor in job searches for the first time ever. I’ve been helping people find jobs for more than a decade now, and until this year, I’d never heard the phrase: “I’ve got to find a job closer to home. I can’t afford the drive anymore.”

The LATimes had an interesting article this weekend about the possible knock-on issues if oil goes to $200-a-barrel. What do they foresee happening to the workplace in such an environment?

Dramatically higher transportation costs would usher in an era of virtual mobility, or zero mobility, for many workers.

“We’re seeing companies go to four-day workweeks, place increased emphasis on working at home, show bigger interest in setting up satellite offices — anything that gets commute times down and gets people off the road,” said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in San Jose.

Videoconferencing, touted as “the next big thing” for years, would finally have its day, thanks to improved technology and a desperation to cut corporate travel budgets.

Telecommuting, or working from home, is easier than ever because of the spread of high-speed Internet access, said Jonathan Spira, chief analyst at Basex Inc., a business research firm in New York. In particular, workers in “knowledge” jobs that can be performed with computers and phones would benefit.

But Gilligan of USC noted that lower-income workers tend to be in jobs that don’t favor telecommuting, such as retail and food service.

“These are the same people who are already being creamed by the mortgage crisis,” he said. “The impacts of energy price increases are highly disparate.”

Although white-collar workers may be able to telecommute, they could also take a serious financial hit because soaring energy prices tend to wreak havoc on the stock market. The explosion of 401(k) plans and similar retirement accounts in the last few decades — and the decline of traditional pensions with guaranteed payouts — have tied workers’ financial futures more closely to stocks than they were during the 1970s oil shocks. A prolonged Wall Street downturn could mean a no-frills retirement, or none at all.

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Tags: Finance · Jobs · The Green Worklife