When we think about what affects job satisfaction and performance, the same themes usually pop up. Wages, availability of training, management support and so on. One thing that can be crucial to enjoying your job is your commute. People with the same job may have very different experiences if one commutes less than 30 minutes while the other one drives 2 hours.
One Doctor's Commute
To find out more about the effects of commuting, I spoke to Craig Masson, a doctor who typically spends around 80 minutes a day commuting in the UK (they have long commutes and traffic problems too!). I asked him for his insight into commuting, both from his own personal experiences and from his experience seeing patients over the years.
"To beat the traffic and reduce the duration of the journey, I leave the house at 7:15am to get to work by around 7:50," Masson said. "I typically finish by about 6:15p and get home around 7. The journey home at the end of the day is particularly frustrating, due to a combination of factors; tiredness at the end of the workday, a desire to be home ASAP and a less direct route to travel. The morning is not so bad as the journey is less busy and I catch up on the news on radio. The commuting is getting very tiresome and I hope to move much closer to work so I can leave the house around 8:15am and be home by 6:30pm."
I wondered what impact the commuting had on Craig's actual health, aside from his general frustration. He said numerous events occurred which can harm one's health. He said he started skipping breakfast, which is not something he recommends to patients. He also said he has felt too tired to think about exercise and just ends up sitting watching TV. He said his fitness level is suffering as a result.
These developments are something that should concern both staff and employers.
"Chronic tiredness frequently leads to frustration, irritability and even depression," Masson said. "People spending a lot of time commuting spend less time with loved ones, less time exercising, and are more likely to frequently eat junk food or microwave meals. The lack of exercise and poor diet increases obesity and diabetes rates. Chronic tiredness tends to affect work performance also."
Occupational Psychologist Anna Weglarz backs up Craig's words. She says long commutes are associated with many health and safety problems among workers, mainly mental health and cardiovascular diseases.
"It also has other effects usually associated with stress," Weglarz says. "This includes musculoskeletal disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and, importantly, depression (which weakens the immune system and makes people more prone to conditions such as flu). Commuting has an effect on performance as it increases anger and resentment at work, absenteeism, and has a negative impact on punctuality and the ability to focus and perform at the same level as other colleagues who live nearer to the place of work."
One thing that may help to offset some of the damage caused by a long commute is the concept of Active Commuting, which includes walking or cycling to work. In some countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden this has become popular, and those governments claim their people have seen health improvements.
"However, in most westernized countries there is a lack of infrastructure and issues of safety, cycle storage and work dress code," said Weglarz. "In Scotland, there are the issues of urban design (lack of dedicated cycle paths) and unfavorable weather conditions."
Flexible Work Options
If Active Commuting isn't the answer to our commuting problem, what is? More flexible working options could be the key. This means allowing employees to work from home some days of the week. It can have a positive effect on a worker in everything from how independent they feel on the job to their ability to maintain a better work-family balance.
"However, it has a negative effect on relationships with co-workers due to limited contact, meaning limited social interactions," Weglarz said. "It is good for businesses, as the employee may be capable of working longer hours. It has good potential to minimize the negative impact of the daily routine of getting to and from work. Mobile technologies also help here as people can make us of teleconferencing."
Of course, to introduce these kind of working patterns, employers and HR departments need to be willing to tackle the potential commute issue. Take it into account when recruiting, as well as when managing current employees. Use helpful technology, as many jobs do not require an actual physical presence and can be done virtually through teleconferencing, email and phone. Ultimately, what many employees crave is a sense of empathy from management. Remember that the more help you give to employees, the happier they will be, helping your bottom line at the end of the day.