Is Public Transport The Key To Employee Engagement?

The impact of our commute on our level of employee engagement is fairly well known, with previous studies highlighting how people would often trade in a higher salary if it meant their commute was shorter each day. Indeed, the longer it takes us to get to work each day, the unhappier we are with life in general, including both work and personal life.

See Also: Warning: Your Commute Is Probably Making You Miserable

Now, a new study from researchers at Ball State University highlights how improving the public transport system in a town or city can have a big impact on your happiness levels at work.

Why smooth public transport matters

The study, which was published in Urban Studies Journal revealed that nations with better, often fixed-route, bus systems appeared to have significantly lower levels of employee turnover.

The research suggests that the more a location invests in its public transport system, the better engaged employees appear to be at work.  The analysis revealed that when the operating expenditure per passenger increased in a bus network, this was linked with a fall in employee turnover. Such investment in public transport saves organisations substantial sums through not having to recruit and train new employees, nor worry about the loss of important skills and knowledge from the firm.

The study explored the employee turnover rate in several US counties over a 12 year period from 1998 to 2010.  The counties included were in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois. The counties were chosen largely due to their population, with the aim being to analyse a populous of between 50,000 and 125,000 people, who either had access to bus based public transport or did not.

Using freely available data, the authors discovered that having a good quality bus network available to workers in a county reduced the total employee turnover in the area by between 1,100 and 1,200 jobs on average.  This reduction represented a cost saving to employers of between $5.3 million and $6.1 million.  This was in manufacturing alone, with similar figures also revealed in the retailing industry, albeit with slightly lower savings due to the lower cost of training new staff in retail.

The cost of employee turnover

It has been estimated in previous studies that high turnover costs can reduce a company’s income by as much as 20 percent, so it’s something that clearly matters a lot. If something as relatively simple as providing better public transport links can help to reduce this, then there would appear to be a strong incentive for towns and cities (and employers) to pull together and improve matters.

"The suburbanization of manufacturing and retail employment has had a dramatic impact on low-income individuals," the authors conclude. "For low-income workers, limited access to transportation may hinder the type and number of jobs available to them. This would ultimately influence income levels and the duration of employment."

We have seen instances where employers take matters into their own hands and operate their own bus transit systems for employees. Would this be a considerable perk for you if your organisation were to offer it?

The impact of bus transit on employee turnover: Evidence from quasi-experimental samples