These days, I have what most people would think of as a dream commute -- a few minutes at most.  

That's because, most days I work from home. There's also a co-working space that I use, walking distance from my house. (Non-WeWork, though. I'm sort of over them.) 

I bring this up not to brag, or even to compare myself to long-ago versions of my commute.

Instead, it's to comment on new data from the U.S. Census Bureau showing that average commute times are rising. And depending on where your business is located, your employees might be spending as much as 17 hours a year more commuting than they would have a decade ago.

As The Washington Post put it while reporting the data:

Relative to 1980, the picture is even more grim: Since then, American workers have lost nearly an hour a week to their commutes, the equivalent of one full-time workweek over the course of a year. All told, the average American worker spent 225 hours, or well over nine full calendar days, commuting in 2018.

The causes of the increase in commute time are sort of obvious -- the kinds of things that add up over time. Among them:

  • New housing isn't being built fast enough in metropolitan areas, and what housing exists is much more expensive.
  • So, workers are settling further away from where they work -- especially after they start families.
  • Overall populations are growing, but we're barely spending enough to maintain the existing transportation infrastructure, never mind expand it.

Now, there was a time when I think some bosses might have looked at these numbers sand said: Well, suck it up. Nobody really forced you to move to the exurbs.

But I think (hope) that's largely an attitude of the past. For one thing, it's self-defeating if you want to keep your best workers. A survey last year found that 23 percent of workers had quit a job over a bad commute.

I know this firsthand, by the way. I once commuted two hours each way by car for a job. I lasted six months. More recently, however, I spent four years at a company in Manhattan; that was a more bearable 70 minutes door-to-door, given it was mostly by train.

The Post also lists a litany of studies suggesting that people with longer commutes have "higher rates of obesity and high blood pressure," "higher rates of divorce," children who are more likely to have "social and emotional problems."

Moreover, studies show longer commutes lead to more absenteeism. Again, it seems kind of obvious, but it's probably something you'd like to minimize as an employer.

So, possible solutions? More liberal work-from-home policies, satellite offices, and flexible hours come to mind. 

And it also makes sense when it's time to expand, to consider moving to where the workers you need are, instead of trying to get them to come to you. (Case in point: HQ2.)

None of these are especially novel ideas of course. But if you don't actually know how good or bad your employees' commutes are, it's information that could prove valuable.

Even asking directly -- and showing that you're sincerely interested in trying to make their commutes easier -- could go a bit of a way toward building empathy and loyalty.

Published on: Oct 9, 2019
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