A new study from the University of the West of England examines the impact of commuting on employees’ wellbeing and job satisfaction. Based on an analysis of 26,000 workers in England, the study found that “every extra minute of commute time reduces job satisfaction, reduces leisure time satisfaction, increases strain and reduces mental health.” Commuters who travel by bus are particularly affected by the negative impacts of long commutes, but the effect is reversed among those who travel by train: Longer train commutes tend to be less stressful than short ones as commuters are “better able to use their journey time productively.” Those who commute on foot or by bicycle, in contrast, have higher levels of job satisfaction and perceptions of their own health.
The study also measured just how much long commutes hurt job satisfaction, Olivia Rudgard highlights at the Telegraph, finding that an extra 20 minutes of commute time is as bad as a 19 percent cut in pay for the average worker:
For someone earning the average pre-tax salary of £1,800 per month, equivalent to £21,600 a year, an extra 10 minutes spent travelling each way was equivalent to a £340 fall in monthly income, the study found.
At CEB, now Gartner, our recent research has also found that grueling commutes have a major negative impact on employees’ work.
We’ve been doing our own analysis of how factors both inside and outside the workplace affect employee engagement. In a 2017 survey of 7,500 employees around the world, we asked about a variety of personal and work experiences (such as whether they had a good night of sleep or being assigned to a boring project). We tested the influence of these experiences on employee engagement, specifically whether they felt motivated to put a high amount of effort into their doing their job. As in the UWE study, we found that a stressful commute can be very harmful: In fact, it was the second most impactful personal factor we tested (similar to having a sharply increased workload).
The most impactful factor we identified was having recently fought with a significant other or family member. Employees who have had such a fight recently are a whopping 55 percent less likely to have strong motivation to do their work. This is six times the impact on motivation when an employee has a conflict with her or her manager.
This is not to say that work factors don’t matter; we find that being in a negative office environment or a lacking necessary resources can also have a considerable impact on motivation. However, our findings suggest that we may be paying far too little attention to the impact of personal life factors on work performance – even beyond the commute.