Is Your Commute to Work Killing Your Productivity?

Posted in : HR Updates on 11 November 2019
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

For eight years from 2011 to 2019 I endured a daily rush hour commute to and from work in Belfast. I would arrive into work most mornings in a state of anxiety, totally wound up from my hellish experience and giving off to the first person I saw about the nightmare traffic or an accident on the M2.  I would inevitably start my day off in a bad mood, reeling over my taxing journey.  Then of course, I would do it all over again on my race home to get to school before the afterschool club closed.  I always seemed to be that mum running through the school gates, apologising for being late to the incredibly patient staff only for them to smile politely, through gritted teeth, and say it was, ‘Ok’.  But it wasn’t, not really.  I was under pressure to get the kids bundled into the car to get home and start dinner and homeworks in time for whatever extracurricular activity was planned for that evening. I ended up not giving my children the attention they needed, as I was trying to juggle too many things simultaneously.

My new job, which is now only fifteen or so minutes from home, has totally changed things for me for the better. I now enjoy a short, relaxing commute and I am practically skipping into work these mornings, grateful that I didn’t have to endure some ‘broken down lorry on the Westlink’.  As a result, I am much more focused and calmer which I can only assume has a positive knock on effect on my productivity. I’m never late for afterschools anymore and am no longer ‘mumzilla’ thanks to the extra time in the evenings.

According to Vitality’s, 2016 Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey, long commutes are linked to higher levels of stress and reduced productivity.  The study also found that employees commuting less than half an hour have extra seven days’ worth of productive time each year and flexible working helps improve health and productivity. Interestingly though, the research found that working from home was shown to have no positive health or productivity impact. 

On a much smaller scale, having done my own research on LinkedIn, it seems I am not alone in my views regarding commuting - judging by the responses I received to a post on the topic. With almost 8000 views and several comments, it was clearly very topical.  The majority of my LinkedIn friends had nothing good to say about the rush hour commute apart from one resourceful contact who used this time to think, strategise and plan out his day.

Unfortunately, most, like me, didn’t experience any benefits from being stuck in our cars for so long. A couple of contacts avoided rush hour altogether seeing it as wasted time and travelled either before or after peak traffic.  These individuals were either self-employed or worked for employers who offered flexibility in terms of start and end times. Others had, like me, changed from a long to a short commute and unanimously described the positive impact it was having on their work and home lives.  Another contact told of how, after years of spending an hour commuting to work every day, now enjoyed a fifteen-minute journey. Not only had this had a positive effect of him in terms of being a more energetic employee, but he was now a better father and husband.

From my research it appears that the progressive employers have recognised how travel can have a huge impact on employee productivity and are less rigid in their start and end times. These employers offer flexi time enabling employees to plan their journeys around peaks in traffic or avoid it altogether through home-working a couple of days a week.  My LinkedIn friends working for such employers, reported improved efficiencies throughout the day and were happier and more relaxed as a result.  This is in stark contrast to one of my contacts who had had the opposite experience, having gone from a short to a long, commute.  She described how she would fret the evening before work about what journey awaited her the next morning and how guilty she felt as a mother having less time with her son in the evenings.

So according to my own findings and those of Vitality’s, it would seem that the majority of respondents benefit from a short, stress-free commute to and from work. The positive impact on work and home life is in stark contrast to the downsides of having to suffer gridlock traffic. There are individuals who are more able to refocus their thoughts more positively and use this time to ponder and plan their day. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people, but I certainly admire anyone who can adopt such a mindset.

Perhaps it is time that more employers consider whether fixed start and finish times is causing more harm than good in terms of staff morale, retention and output. If there is a chance that offering flexibility results in happier, more relaxed and productive employees then surely this is a business case worth considering?

Useful reading:

Long Commutes Costing Firms a Week’s Worth of Staff Productivity

This article is correct at 11/11/2019

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Olga Pollock
firmus energy

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