How Long Commutes Impact Workplace Productivity

trafficWhat do all employees have in common? They all have a burning dislike for their morning commute! Let’s face it, it’s not the actual commute that most people dislike, it’s the hassle of dealing with traffic, long lines, and rude people that make the trip so despised.

It doesn’t matter how an employee gets to work — whether it’s by car, train, plane, boat, or just walking, there’s always one or more aspects of a long commute that a person would like to change. How an employee starts the day is an important indicator of his or her attitude for the rest of that day.

You know the ad that proclaims 15 minutes could save you 15% by switching to some insurance? Well, I cut my commute time in half by switching my car’s horn from a beep to sounding like a machine gun. At least I wish I did. My former commute to work was 70 miles each way. While the traffic was always light, that commute still extracted a fair amount of energy from me due to the time spent on the road. Luckily for me, my supervisor allowed me to work from home two days a week.

Managers need to determine what an employee needs to be the most productive while at work. Some things are within their control such as having the best equipment, providing the most up-to-date training, or even a supplying a kick-start of coffee or a snack. However, there are a plethora of items outside their control that can disrupt productivity such as the need for eight hours of sleep, family issues, or even a particularly grueling commute. According to a recent Gallup poll, fourteen percent of all American workers report they spend at least 45 minutes getting to work. Gallup found that commutes of this length are linked to poorer overall wellbeing, daily mood, and health.

If a manager doesn’t have to endure the horrors of a long and demanding commute, it might be difficult for that person to understand the impact it has on an employee’s productivity and overall morale. Considering that the average worker spends five weeks a year commuting, it’s easy to see how someone might not feel motivated when he or she reaches the workplace.

Fortunately, restoring motivation in an employee with a lengthy commuting is relatively easy. That being said, it takes a manager who is willing to make compromises, have a fair amount of trust in his or her employees, and the necessary equipment — or the ability to lay the groundwork — to let them telecommute if the situation arises.

“Commuting can be a major challenge for employees,” says Jason Reeves, MBA, Director of Survey at United Benefit Advisors. “Employers can ease this burden by allowing telecommuting and flexible work schedules to take the burden off of long commutes during the rush hour.”

There is no doubt that a manager assumes a small amount of risk when letting an employee work from home, but if that manager is confident in the employee’s work ethic, then there should not be a reason to worry. In fact, most employees who telecommute report that they actually work harder from home than they do in the office because they felt like they had to “prove themselves” to their colleagues and show that they were pulling their weight.

When telecommuting is not an option, there are plenty of small changes in the workplace that can be made to help ease the pressure on workers who commute long distances:

  • Allow commuting employees to work one day a week from home. The break from the commute will ease their stress and show them that you understand their situation.
  • If employees primarily take public transportation as a way to get to work, then count one hour toward their time in the office as long as they use a laptop or other device to do job-related functions.
  • Have flexible office hours so that employees can arrive, work an appropriate amount of time, then leave so as to avoid both morning and evening rush hours.
  • Offer support (such as moving expenses, paid time off, etc.) to workers who are willing to relocate closer to the office.

Finally, be sympathetic. An employee may not have a choice when it comes to their commute and a little understanding can go a long way in making that person feel as though someone understands their morning struggle.

Wondering what other perks employees appreciate most? Download a copy of UBA’s 2013 Ancillary Survey executive summary to see which voluntary benefits employers use most to boost employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention.