The New York City subway system along with the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit systems (which all connect at Penn Station in Manhattan) serve some 5 million riders each day from the Tri-State area and is the largest and most traveled public transit network in the world. They are also perhaps the most troubled, due to an ailing century-old infrastructure still suffering damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy.

After a train derailment in Brooklyn in late June that injured dozens of people, Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency around safety concerns, appropriating $1BN in funds to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to pay for much-needed repairs and equipment. He officially dubbed the crisis the “Summer of Hell” for New Yorkers. Fun!

Ridership on the trains greatly increases in the summer, making getting to work even more difficult, and many commuters remain unsatisfied. In a poll of 1,200 straphangers conducted by the city comptroller’s office, 74 percent said that the subways had caused them to be late to a work meeting, 13 percent reported lost wages, and 65 percent said they had been late to drop off or pick up their children.

New Yorkers are hard workers. Many of them don’t own cars and schlep to and from work every day. The ones that do have cars are usually caught in an hour-plus commute in some of the gnarliest traffic on the planet. The big takeaway here is when morning commutes are declared to be in a “state of emergency” by local authorities in a place like New York City, it’s time to give your workers a bit of a break. Here are some quick fixes that can take the edge off one of the most stressful summers for MTA riders:

  • Summer Hours – Adjust scheduling to work outside of rush hour commutes if possible. This could be as simple as starting late and leaving early, or by changing things up on the most stressful commute days, Mondays and Fridays (e.g., we have half-day Fridays during the summer).
  • Subsidized Mass Transit – Employees are not only stressed about riding the rails, they are paying for it every day, adding to their stress. If you don’t have one already, consider offering a subsidized pre-tax public transit program to at least lift some of the financial burden.
  • Extra Flexibility – If your employee needs to leave early to make sure they pick up their kid from school in time, etc., don’t let it become a thing. Say “yes” and work it out. When you increase trust it makes it easier for employees to do their jobs.
  • Remote Work Options – There are many ways to work in these modern times and a large percentage of employees don’t need to be at a desk to do their job. Consider if those with the worst commutes even need to be in the office, and nip the problem in the bud.
  • Hydration – Dehydration is a major concern when the weather gets hot, and many professionals don’t drink enough water during the day, even in offices with water coolers. Keep it on the radar by grabbing a pallet of bottled water and leaving them available for anyone who needs one.

The “Summer of Hell” need not be so hellish after all. It’s actually a great opportunity to engage your staff and open honest dialogues about work/life balance, and some small adjustments can return big dividends in productivity. Turning stressful circumstances into rewarding opportunities is a valuable skill that will keep employees around for several summers to come.