We have all probably heard horror stories related to commuting. Maybe some of the stories have been from your own experiences. There might be days when you dread having to go to work just due to the commute alone. While commutes do seem to be getting longer, and sometimes worse, all is not lost.
The Facts and Figures
In the U.S. the distance between an employee’s home and workplace has increased every year since 2000.
The average time that people around the world spend commuting in one day is about 76 minutes. That equals to about 300 hours a year, or more than 35 workdays.
In the U.K. commutes of longer than 2 hours per day have increased by 72%, while 3 or more hours a day have increased by 75%.
According to the 2009 U.S. census, 86% or employees drive to work, 5% take public transportation, and about 3% walk or bike.
It is no wonder that employees often state that the commute is their least favorite part of the day.
The Effects of a Long Commute
Many people can probably list multiple negative effects of a long commute. Most often commutes lead to increased stress. Stress about a job and the commute can lead people to feel less motivated, be late more often, absent more often, or can even lead them to quit.
They can also put stress on couples and friendships, leaving people with less time to care for their relationships. The breakdown of a social life can often result in employees feeling more isolated and depressed.
Since most people do not bike or walk to work, the additional hours of sitting, along with the added stress, can lead to weight gain, higher cholesterol, and higher blood pressure.
All of this does not sound great. And while many people cannot get to work without commuting, there are ways to not only survive the commute, but to actually thrive in it.
Surviving the Commute
Many people try to find ways to distract themselves while they commute. They may listen to music, read a book, play a game, or any number of other things that help them escape the reality of the situation. Listed below are a few tips that you can follow to help survive the commute.
- Taking the train instead of driving can result in less stress and a better mood.
- Doing puzzles or reading a book can keep you alert and ready to work.
- Meditating allows you to feel more centered and relaxed when you are starting or ending your work day.
- Learning a new skill, technique, or language can help you feel more motivated and productive.
- Finding friends to commute with you can make the trip less isolating.
- Wearing more comfortable shoes during the commute can cut down on fatigue.
- Eating healthy snacks can improve your health and also eliminate the risk of being “hangry”.
- Creating a playlist of relaxing or happy music can help you destress when the commute gets overwhelming.
- Focusing on your posture can help you alleviate back, shoulder, or neck pain.
- Walking or biking whenever possible can lead to improvements in health and mood.
While we can all use a change of pace or little distraction at times, research has shown that simply surviving may not lead to the happiest commute.
Perception is Reality
Like most things in life, our perceptions and our control over our own thoughts impacts how he interpret and react to any given situation. The commute is no different.
Jon Jachimowicz, a research from Columbia Business School, and other researchers found that people who view the commute as a negative part of the day often want to distract themselves from it. But they found that this can actually backfire, as the perception of the commute as being something to be disliked leads to feelings of unhappiness, frustration, and fatigue.
Even though distraction and surviving may seem like the thing to do, the fact that there is the initial thought of needing distraction from an unfavorable aspect of daily life leads to negative impacts, regardless of what is done during the commute.
So, it all starts with a mindset. Having a positive outlook can greatly impact long term happiness.
Thriving: Learn to Love the Commute
Thriving involves going from a mindset of viewing the commute as a waste of time to a mindset of viewing the commute as a time for reflection, planning, and goal setting. This can be a time to switch from home mode to work mode.
Planning out the day and the different tasks can help you be ready for challenges and be able to overcome them easier. It can lead to a more structured and productive day, leading for more time to relax or go through tasks without feeling as much pressure. The self-discipline and self-control to use these commute strategies can last throughout the entire day.
Overall, this outlook and the strategies were found to lead to less stress and increased job satisfaction.
Learning to Thrive
Some people may not have the initial level of self-control needed for thriving during the commute, but the good thing is that research has found that this skill can be learned.
In the Jachimowicz study, participants were split into two groups: One that received text message reminders from managers to distract themselves but also take some time to plan and the other group being sent messages to record what they did during the commute each day.
The group that was instructed to plan a little during the commute were happier with their jobs and less tired after the commute. This intervention was found to work for all people, whether they had high levels of self-control or not. The study shows that people can learn to focus on work during the commute and that it can lead to higher levels of satisfaction.
For HR professionals and managers, it can useful to identify which employees are feeling dissatisfied or which employees seem to have less self-control and to actively encourage them to plan and strategize, even for a short time, during the commute. They can also encourage them to switch from work to home life during the evening commute by making plans for their personal lives.
While commutes are often unavoidable, managers and employees can work together to reframe the commute as a thing to love instead of as a thing to dread. This can be done with something as simple as suggestion to plan the day.