Too often we examine the lives, preferences and tendencies of employees at work to make improvements to the overall work experience. But what about where they start and end each day?

Where your employees live in relation to your workplace — or even more, where they can afford to live — will greatly influence the kind of talent you’re likely to attract.

To get to the bottom of this relationship between living and working arrangements, we commissioned a large-scale survey of U.S. employees with Apartment Guide to measure the effects that rising living expenses are having on overall employee sentiment. The main takeaway? Living expenses continue to outpace pay increases for many workers — and Gen Z is not surprisingly bearing the brunt of the burden.

commutes are killing morale

Among Gen Z workers, 43 percent said they're forced to live far from their jobs and have to endure long commutes because they can't afford to live nearby, and 42 percent reported that this time spent traveling to and from work negatively impacts their mood and productivity at work.

The future of your business will depend on key contributions from these young employees on the outskirts as their presence in the workforce grows. So knowing this, what can you do today to ensure you are able to retain the talent you will need tomorrow to succeed?

reduce commutes to increase engagement

In today's tight talent market, you can't afford to let engagement levels slip - and our data has shown that enabling conditions that force workers to live far away from their work could deal a significant blow to morale.

In addition to changes in their mood and productivity, 47 percent of Gen Z workers said they often skip work events that extend after office hours because of their long commutes. That's a problem, as oftentimes it's these extra activities that help improve team chemistry the most and allow up-and-comers to get critical face time with leaders or influential colleagues.

The more that employees have to endure long commutes, the greater their risk becomes of burning out or making reckless decisions. Thirty-three percent of Gen Z workers even admitted that they'd gotten into "driving while working" accidents. Yikes.

When employees experience burnout, on-the-job engagement is next in line to suffer. Engaged workforces are more productive and profitable overall, so pushing your workers further and further away from the center of the action could hurt your bottom line in the end.

make your pay rates competitive

So what can you do to help? For starters, make sure your pay rates are competitive with the overall market. At the end of the day, the distance between where Gen Z employees live and where they work stems from inadequate pay compared to the cost of living in your area.

Bringing pay rates in line with the overall market can help ease financial strain on your youngest employees, which will allow them to focus more on their job… that is, their job with your company. Fifty percent of Gen Z workers said they have more than one job to help supplement their main salary. So not only is their focus being drained by long, taxing commutes, it's often being split between jobs, too — making it difficult to unlock their true potential.

boost transportation benefits

Improving pay can help more employees move closer to work, but how can you help the rest who still face long commutes?

Consider adding more transportation perks to your benefits package. Incentives like reimbursing public transportation costs or covering parking expenses can help soften the blow for your organization's most steadfast straphangers. After all, nearly everyone surveyed in our Work Perks and Benefits study said they wanted their employers to update their benefits packages in ways that meaningfully impacted their quality of life.

key takeaways

The cost of living is high for many of us today. Sixty percent of all respondents said that their rent or mortgage was their most expensive bill, and 44 percent said their annual residential expenses increase more than their salary does each year. For the next generation of talent, the outlook is even more grim.

The long commutes that result from prohibitively high costs of living near their places of work are harmful to the productivity and engagement of Gen Z employees — the very ones you need to worry about retaining to shore up your workforce for the future.

Make sure your pay rates are competitive for your area, and bolster your benefits packages with transportation incentives to reduce commute-related stress and create an environment where your youngest workers can grow and thrive.

To learn more about what you can do to improve engagement levels across your workforce, visit our learning center here.