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Whether we accept it or not, the commute to and from work is now part of our working day. Is there any way to reverse the trend, or is it now a reality of modern life?



It is believed that for many of us, our commute claims a large chunk of our week. This assumption reached the highest corridors of power, with Bill Shorten once claiming that nine out of ten Australians spend 90 minutes or more a day just travelling to or from work. Now, it turned out Shorten wasn’t so great at maths, but the point remains. Our commute is a waste of our time.

In Sydney alone, the average travel time per week is over five hours, with 78% of Australians travelling to work by car. The Washington Post discovered that the average American spent 31.3 days throughout the year commuting. As a result, we workers are left feeling frustrated, disconnected from families and even experiencing impacted health. Prior research has found that long commutes which resulted in time spent sitting (not including the time spent sitting all day at your desk) could result in an increase in cardiovascular disease, obesity and even early death. Erika Sandow, a social geographer from Sweden’s Umea University, conducted a study that revealed that longer commutes can increase marital dissatisfaction.

How’s that for your marriage being collateral damage in the fight to the top of the corporate ladder?

Now, British researchers are attempting to get employers to acknowledge, if not count, their employees’ daily commute as part of their work time. The researchers believe that your commute to work is “on the clock” with a review of 5,000 train passengers in the UK admitting to spending most of their time during the commute catching up on work emails. 54% of the participants claimed they were using the train’s Wi-Fi during this time, to make sure they weren’t falling behind in their workload.

This correlates with research that finds very few leave work at work, and attempts at establishing balance or barriers, with France’s “right to disconnect” labour agreement as an example. The agreement attempted to make it illegal for employees to force workers to email outside work hours, and tried to impose restrictions around after-work emails for companies with over 50 employees.

Research found that when commuters used the travel time to “relax, think, and shift gears” they were more likely to increase a sense of enjoyment about the travel time, but more importantly, felt the time was somewhat productive.

It’s unlikely, however, that your boss is about to skim time off your work-week to compensate for the time you spent on the train, on the bus or in traffic. Regardless, we shouldn’t write it off as time wasted, with research from the University of West England in Bristol starting to show that the commute to work is just as significant to our sense of well-being as other parts of our leisure time. The research, though, found that employees spent this excess time on their daily commute anxiously checking work emails, worrying about the day ahead and felt a loss in job satisfaction.

These negatives were mitigated when commuters walked to work or cycled to work. In fact, the research found that those who walked to work or cycled to work felt an increase in leisure time satisfaction and a general sense of higher job satisfaction. These findings correlate with the theory that walking and cycling impacts overall health, a sense of wellbeing and is a distraction from merely sitting and staring straight ahead (or being busy on the train fighting against manspreading through a poorly thought-through protest, or taking photos of hot men) before heading into your job.

So are those who must drive to work or sit on a bus or train doomed to a life of misery and ill-health? Not necessarily. The research found that when commuters used the travel time to “relax, think, and shift gears” they were more likely to increase (maybe only very slightly) a sense of enjoyment about the travel time, but more importantly, felt the time spent was somewhat productive. Even if that time is spent shaving your legs.

Instead of spending time commuting to work checking emails and responding to urgent calls, perhaps that time can be spent listening to a podcast, listening to an audiobook or even just reading. Until Elon Musk sorts out this whole tunnel travel concept (which to be fair, seems unlikely as he seems a bit busy at the moment), and until your boss agrees to pay you for your commute (unlikely), or the law changes to ban you from checking your work emails outside of work hours (also, unlikely), then the onus is on us to use that time productively. So grab that Stephen Fry Mythos* audiobook and sit back on your train ride to Wynyard watching your life satisfaction levels increase, knowing that you are not zombie-training it into the office.**

*This is not a sponsored post, just really like the audiobook.

**Disclaimer: The writer of this article believes that the best way to increase productivity, a sense of well-being and ensure healthy long term relationships is to utilise the daily commute to work by reading articles on The Big Smoke. This is not peer reviewed research.


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