The morning commute impacts your employees' whole day
The dreaded morning commute. Whether it lasts minutes or hours, the stress of the daily commute can take its toll on employees’ moods and motivation, which in the long run can affect a company’s productivity. Jon M. Jachimowicz, PhD candidate at Columbia Business School, and Geraldine Delplanque, Sodexo global marketing director of mobility & expenses, have shed some light on how we can offset the negative effects of commuting.
The practice of commuting has evolved quite a bit recently – how do these changes affect commuters?
Jon M. Jachimowicz (JMJ): Over the last few years, the time people spend commuting has steadily increased. Factors such as urban sprawl have made it more and more expensive for employees to live close to their place of work, therefore commuting is becoming more prominent and widespread. Currently, the average global commute takes 38 minutes each way – which equates to roughly 300 hours per year, or more than 10 percent of total working time and forecasts project that commuting time is going to increase in years to come. And, let’s not forget that employees consistently rate commuting - especially the morning commute - as the worst part of their working day.
Geraldine Delplanque (GD): I agree, urbanisation trends are greatly impacting the daily commute. This is a growing concern, as in the context of the war for talent, commuting is emerging as a key topic. That said, I would also like to point out a piece of good news: innovative commuting solutions are increasing. Not so long ago, we had very limited commuting options, either personal cars or public transport. Today, multimodal solutions are more of a reality. For example, you can begin commuting by car and finish with a city bike, or even park and ride. Dynamic parking is also developing.
How does reducing the negative effects of commuting correspond to how the rest of employees’ day will go?
JMJ.: Commuters are not just moving between physical spaces, they also psychologically occupy different roles. When you’re at home, you might take the role of a parent, and when you’re at work, you take on the role of a co-worker or a manager. Someone who uses their commute to not only physically, but mentally transition from their home to their work role is ready to start their day and take on the demands of their respective work roles as soon as they arrive. Research has shown that when we don’t transition adequately between various roles, we experience displeasure that can drain us and potentially lead to job dissatisfaction and exhaustion.
GD: Yes, I have seen this firsthand with our clients – a bad commute leads to stress in the workplace, which can affect efficiency and focus, lower interaction with colleagues and of course, cause health problems such as headaches, sleep disorders, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems problems. All these factors can ultimately fuel employees’ demotivation.
Jon, in your research, you speak about combating commute-related stress. Can you provide some insight?
JMJ: Depending on where we live, we don’t always have much control over our means of commuting. However, we do have some control over what we do or think about while commuting. This could be things that bring about immediate satisfaction – daydreaming, listening to music – or things that provide more long-term value – thinking ahead about plans for the day, goals and schedules. Our research shows that individuals who test highly for self-control traits, are more likely to contemplate the work day ahead of them. As a result, they are less likely to be affected by long commutes, because this work-related mind-set allows them to more efficiently transition into their work role during their morning commute.
What can companies do to improve employee commutes?
JMJ: It is important that companies understand that commuting affects the way that people feel and behave at work. For this reason, management shouldn’t only care about employees from the moment they step into the office - they need to have a more holistic view. The way in which employees commute and the duration of their commutes influences the way they feel about working and how they behave and perform at work.
GD: Fostering new practices and opening the door to new ways of working – for commuting this means allowing for customisation and flexibility. Commuting has become more versatile with commuters taking multiple modes of transport meaning that a company’s role will not only be to help employees get to work in the morning, but also to give them access to the best transportation options at any time of the day.
Pioneering companies are also currently searching for unique alternatives to the traditional workplace. Today, the physical presence of some employees is no longer required. In this respect, working from home or a nearby co-working facility is a great way to avoid commuting altogether. In addition, offering flexibility in arrival time has proven to be very efficient, and it enhances work-life balance allowing employees to organise their day in a way that works best for them.
And finally, Jon, in your experience, are there any tools that companies aren’t making adequate use of to improve the employee experience?
JMJ: Many big companies are sitting on a treasure load of data. They know how long employees commute and how satisfied they are at work – but they don’t sufficiently analyse this data. This data makes it possible to build predictive models of who is most likely to leave the organisation, why some employees perform better than others, and what they can do to change this. Companies often lack the theoretical background, the analytical skills or simply don’t think holistically.