- The average commute time in the US is 50 minutes round trip, but some people spend far longer getting to and from work.
- Researchers in England found adding an additional 20 minutes of commuting per day has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19% pay cut.
- Overall, bus and train commuters report more dissatisfaction than those who walk or bike.
Commuting is a drag.
For many of us, the time we spend waiting for a train or bus or sitting in traffic feels like an unavoidable part of the work day — but new research suggests, yet again, that it could be harmful to our well-being and job satisfaction.
The study comes from the University of the West of England, which analysed the impact of commuting on more than 26,000 employees in England over a five-year period.
In England, the average daily commute time has risen from 48 minutes to 60 minutes in the past 20 years and one in seven commuters spends at least two hours on their daily round-trip commute. The average commute time in the US is less, at around 50 minutes round-trip.
Researchers found that each extra minute of commuting time reduces both job and leisure time satisfaction — though not overall life satisfaction — and increases strain and worsens mental health for workers.
Not all commuters fared the same, however. The study found commuters who walk or bike to work don’t report the same dissatisfaction with their leisure time as those who commute by bus or train.
Ultimately, an additional 20 minutes of commuting per day has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19% pay cut. That is to say, spending more time standing on a crowded train or sitting in mind-numbing traffic can make you feel just as bad as earning less money, even if you aren’t.
Still, people will often take on longer commute times for a job that pays more, which ultimately improves satisfaction, according to Dr. Kiron Chatterjee, the principal investigator of the study and associate professor of travel behaviour.
“This raises interesting questions over whether the additional income associated with longer commutes fully compensates for the negative aspects of the journey to work,” Dr. Chatterjee said.
Dr. Chatterjee’s research underscores multiple studies that suggest commuting can be more stressful than actually working, and that the longer your commute, the less satisfied you may be with your job and with life in general, reports Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz.
However, many of us tend to downplay the horrors of commuting, falling prey to a phenomenon called “commuter’s bias” when it comes to the prospect of earning more money, according to a team of researchers writing in The Harvard Business Review earlier this year.
The researchers mention a study in which they asked US employees to choose between two job scenarios: “Job 1, with a salary of $US67,000 a year and a commuting time of 50 minutes, and Job 2, with a salary of $US64,000 and a commuting time of 20 minutes.”
According to the researchers, 84% of participants chose Job 1, with the higher salary and longer commute.
In the study, the researchers checked to see whether participants could calculate exactly how much more they would earn if they chose Job 1: $US12 an hour of commuting time. The participants could, in fact, do the maths.
The researchers write: “Their responses simply reflected an inability to fully appreciate the psychological, emotional, and physical costs of longer travel times.”
Reducing your commute time by moving to a new neighbourhood or changing jobs is an obvious solution to a too-long commute. But there are other ways to make your commute more enjoyable and keep up your job satisfaction, like chatting with fellow riders, or choosing a different mode of transportation.
Additional reporting by Shana Lebowitz.
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