WORKPLACE / DEC. 08, 2014
version 3, draft 3

Warning: Your Commute Is Probably Making You Miserable

Thankfully I don’t have to commute a great deal these days as most of my work is done remotely.  I was reminded of the stresses it brings however earlier this week when traveling for an important event.  Whilst I’d left in plenty of time, the bus driver relayed the dreaded "the destination of this bus has changed" message, and everyone was dumped on the street some way from the supposed destination of the bus, and certainly some way from my own destination.

The next bus wasn’t for about ten minutes, prompting frantic mental calculations.  How could I get there by tube?  Would a costly taxi be the safest bet?  How long would it take to walk the remainder of the journey?

None of which helped get me where I needed to be in a sound and comfortable state of mind.  Now imagine having to do that every day.

A recent study, published in World Leisure Journal, reveals just how stressful our commute is and how it significantly impacts our enjoyment of life.

The research, conducted by academics from the University of Waterloo, highlighted just what it is about the commute that makes it so harmful to our wellbeing.

We found that the longer it takes someone to get to work, the lower their satisfaction with life in general," they reveal.

Why is a long commute so harmful?

There are some benefits to a long commute of course.  I often use such travel time to catch up on reading, and it’s been suggested that it’s used as a time to unwind or create the break between work and home.  The research suggests however that these supposed benefits don’t materialise for most people.

Some people may enjoy a commute, but overall, longer travel time is linked to feelings of time crunch, which can increase stress levels," they say.

The lengthy commute was associated with things like poor physical and mental health, including things such as obesity, lack of energy, hypertension and eventually time off work through illness.

The power of exercise

Interestingly, the research also revealed that the other major contributor to our overall wellbeing was our level of physical activity.

We learned that commuters who had time for physical leisure had higher life satisfaction," they revealed. "Physical activity can mitigate commuting-related stress if workers can include it in their daily routines, but the obvious constraint is time scarcity. Longer commutes mean less time for other activities, which leads to lower life satisfaction."

In addition to a shorter commute and ample levels of exercise, things such as flexible work and high income were linked to high life satisfaction.

The researchers hope that their insights will enable the development of healthier ways of working that allow us to be just as productive without the stresses we currently endure.

The message to employers is that encouraging flexible work hours or providing time for physical leisure can pay dividends in their employees’ satisfaction with life," they conclude.

Of course, this is often a very difficult thing to sell into your boss, and face time remains very important for many.  If you want a happier workforce however, it may be something you should consider.

How long is your own commute?  How does the journey make you feel? Let us know in the comments section below.

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