Are Long Commutes Killing Your Employee Productivity?

To get the most out of your employees, it is important that they are put into a position where they can do their job to the best of their ability. For some employees this means being supplied with the correct equipment, and for other employees this means being given appropriate training, but all employees can benefit from a “good start to the day.”

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The problem with helping your employees have a good start to the day is that what makes a good start… good, will be different from person to person. Some like a hearty breakfast while others prefer cigarettes to kick-start their morning. Some need at least eight hours sleep while others are more than happy to work after only five. It is these little differences that make the human race interesting, but they also make making your employees first couple of hours at work comfortable quite a difficult task.

Luckily, there is one thing all your employees will have in common: a burning dislike for their morning commute.

How does the commute impact your employees?

Recent research from the UK’s Office of National Statistics found that those with a commute higher than 45 minutes are “less satisfied with their lives”, “rated their daily activities as less worthwhile” and “reported higher anxiety” than those who don’t have a long commute to make each morning.

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This research also found that mode of transport had a major impact on an employee’s feelings towards their commute. Employees who took the bus to work fell way behind their non-commuting colleagues when it came to life satisfaction and feeling that their daily activities were worthwhile, while those who take the train are far more likely to suffer from anxiety.

While you might have suspected that your employees are spending their most productive hours making their way to your office, would you have guessed that the journey was having such a profound impact on their wellbeing?

When you consider these facts alongside the knowledge that the average workers spends five weeks a year commuting, it’s easy to see how your employees might not reach you in tip-top condition each morning.

How does this impact your business’s productivity?

A study by the Centre for American Progress found that the average cost of replacing a mid-range employee after they leave is 20% of their annual salary. Instilling life satisfaction, encouraging a feeling of worth and discouraging anxiety in your employees are all great ways of avoiding high turnover, but long commutes might be ruining your chances of achieving this goal.

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High turnover also has a social cost within your organisation. Many staff interviewed as part of the CAP study stated that seeing a large number of colleagues come and go causes them to “disengage” and “lose productivity.” These two elements create a vicious circle where employees who commute become dissatisfied with their job and leave, causing the remaining employees’ (even those who don’t commute) productivity to take a dive.

There are also the more day to day costs of a workforce that makes long commutes. Researchers at Boston Brigham and Womens Hospital found that for every hour someone is awake, their productivity and capability to perform tasks declined. This means that many of your employees could be spending their most productive hours of the day playing Candy Crush for two hours on the way into the office. Combine this with the Journal of Urban Health’s findings which show that workers are making room for their commutes by cutting out “health related activities” like sleeping, preparing fresh food or physical activity, and you could end up looking at an office full of unhealthy and unhappy employees.

Fixing the problem should be a priority, but you can’t relocate your business to make it more convenient for your employees and hiring only in the local area will severely limit your likelihood to find great talent. So, what can you do?

How can you turn it around?

Restoring motivation in your commuting employees isn’t as hard as it might sound, but it does take compromise, a healthy dose of trust in your employees and the infrastructure to let them work from home when they need to.

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While it might seem like a big risk letting an employee telecommute, a recent survey of 3000 workers carried out by Work Wise UK found that almost two thirds of respondents work harder from home than they do in the office. This was because they felt that they had to “prove themselves” to their colleagues in the office and show that they were pulling their weight. A success story came from BT, who after giving over 70% of their employees the ability to work from home recorded an increase in productivity of over 20%.

Samuel Benveniste of virtual office provider W1 Office recently spoke about how his company are helping more and more businesses cut the commute out of their employees’ lives:

“A popular way of removing the commute from the equation, especially for small businesses, is to decentralise your operations. If your business has less than 10 employees then an actual office might not be the best solution. Increases in productivity and decreases in cost could be gained by outsourcing secretarial work like telephone answering or mail services and keeping your core employees in their home environment.

“Telecommuters could be brought together once a week for a round table discussion, but the rest of the work would be dealt with remotely. Not only could this increase job satisfaction and the general wellbeing of employees, but it could also save huge amounts of money that was previously being spent on office space and utilities.”

Although ditching the office altogether is most definitely the nuclear option when it comes to reducing stress caused by commuting, there are plenty of small changes that can be made which will help to ease the pressure on your commuting workers:

  • Let your employees count an hour of their commute as office time. If all they need to work is a laptop, why not let them make their hour on the train more productive?
  • Let commuting employees work one day a week at home. The break from the commute will ease stress and show them that you understand their situation.
  • Make a contribution towards your employees travel costs. Although this won’t improve the amount of time they spend commuting, it will improve their outlook on the situation and might even change their attitude towards the trip.
  • Offer support to workers who wish to relocate closer to the office.
  • Introduce a flex-time scheme, so that commuting employees can come in and leave at a time that allows them to avoid rush hour.
  • Check out this info-graphic from Staff.com to see just how valuable at home employees could be for your business.

Discuss This Article

Comments: 1

  • Bob Johnson says:

    Excellent article, during my time in Atlanta for 8 years I commuted 56 miles one way for a job that I really enjoyed. I have commuted 60 miles one way for a job that I enjoyed. And most recently for 12 years I commuted 34 miles one way for a job that for most of the time I enjoyed.

    When I first came to Atlanta these commutes were tolerable. In the last 12 years (the 34 mile one way commute) they became intolerable. At the end I was spending as much as 4 hours a day in the car, working late hours just to avoid the commute of trying to get home.

    The stresses of the commute eventually negatively impacted my productivity … I would spend the first 90 minutes in the office trying to get over the stress and negativity resulting from the commute.

    I am currently looking for new opportunity, the impact of commuting in Atlanta has added new parameters for the type of job I wish to now pursue and the location of where I am willing to work.

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