How Long Commutes Can Impact Your Well-Being
No-one likes long commutes. Maybe some people don’t mind it. At least it gives you some time to get some reading done (that is, if you’re not so crammed on a train that you can’t even move your arms). But, for the most part, and for most people, the commute is a frustrating and stressful experience. You may get used to delayed trains, buses caught in traffic and being in close proximity to crowds of fellow disgruntled workers every day, but this doesn’t mean that the negative mental health effects go away.
The effect that long commutes have on your well-being can be significant, although these effects vary depending on how long your commute is. In light of the evidence available, when applying to jobs or considering a job offer, the commute involved is a factor worthy of careful consideration. If you get to work, or arrive home, stressed out, then both your work and life outside work will suffer.
Research published last year by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) showed that 3.7 million workers in the UK (1 in 7) spend at least two hours commuting every day. Even more worrying than these figures are findings from 2015, highlighting that the number of commuters travelling for three hours a day or more has risen by 75% in the last decade.
So what’s driving this trend of long commutes? One notable reason is that people are being priced out of areas close to their jobs. This certainly holds true for London – the most expensive city for renters in the UK. Long commutes are also an issue for residents in other expensive cities, such as New York.
A lack of investment in public transport and roads also factor into the equation, resulting in frequently cancelled or delayed trains and traffic jams (commuters in the most congested UK towns and cities spend five days a year stuck in traffic). Everyone knows that being delayed makes for a long and stressful commute. But even without the worry of being late for work, a long commute still contributes to poor mental health.
The impact on well-being
A study published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) emphasises that commuters are more likely to feel anxious, dissatisfied and a lack of meaning in their daily lives than non-commuters (those who work from home). Also, every additional minute spent commuting makes you feel worse, up to a certain point. For some reason, once a commute hits three hours, the negative effects – for the most part – disappear.
Understandably, those who have to squeeze onto a packed train to get to work have higher levels of anxiety than those who drive. But what’s strange is that the study showed that people who walk to work scored lower in terms of life satisfaction and a sense that their activities were worthwhile, on average, than those who commute to work using a private vehicle. This is in spite of the fact that even a short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
The study’s authors underline that many people are willing to endure long commutes for the sake of higher pay or better housing. However, they point out that, given the loss of well-being associated with commuting, these benefits may not actually outweigh the costs.
If part of your career development involves a focus on work-life balance – so that you don’t prioritise your work over your mental health, lifestyle, interests, hobbies and family and social life – then it’s important to reduce excessive time spent commuting. Being able to work remotely for some of the week, or even full-time, may result in huge improvements in terms of well-being. Finding a healthy and optimal work-life balance is tricky and can take a great deal of time and effort to achieve and maintain. With that said, it is a concept that is unduly ignored and which deserves the right level of attention, if one’s career path is to be truly fulfilling.