Commuting: What’s the impact on workers?

The average one-way commuting distance for American employees is 25 minutes. But it takes one in 12 U.S. workers over an hour to get to work, according to latest figures by the U.S. Census Bureau.


Of the 10.5 million employees who spend over an hour each way getting to and from work, 600,000 are “megacommuters” who travel at least 90 minutes and 50 miles one way.

What impact does heavy commuting have on workers – and their productivity in the workplace?

Studies show that long commutes correlate to greater levels of staff absenteeism and more health problems in general.

Employees who are sitting in traffic for up to an hour or more each day excercise less, tend to eat more fast food because they don’t have as much time to cook, spend less quality time with loved ones and, in general, are not as happy as other employees, a newly released Swedish survey from Umea University reports.

Not only do long-distance commuters have disproportionately more pain, stress, obesity and dissatisfaction than those who live close to work, they are also 40 percent more likely to divorce, the study found.

On the job, workers with long commutes tend to be more tired, have lower morale and be more likely to miss work during bad weather.

A recent Gallup poll also found that workers with long commutes feel less rested and experience less enjoyment of life than those who have easier routes to the workplace.

New York, Maryland and New Jersey have the highest number of long-distance commuters. Megacommuters are 75 percent male and more likely to be older, make a higher salary and be married with a spouse who does not work, the Census Bureau found.

Long-distance commuters may not stop to analyze just how much their long commutes are costing them. Figuring in either transit costs or the price of gas, wear-and-tear on car, tires, increased maintenance and insurance costs, it may very well put money in their pockets to move closer to work. Even if home costs are more expensive closer to work, when the actual cost of commuting is added to a mortgage payment, a lot more house can be afforded. And with a shorter commute, they’ll be able to enjoy it more.

The most stressed commuters appear to be drivers, though commuters who have to change between modes of public transportation – bus routes, train lines, subways, etc. – appear to have the most stress, according to a study on commuting by VU University in the Netherlands.

While only 5 percent of all American commuters use public transportation to travel to work, one quarter of megacommuters use public transit, primarily trains.

A potential benefit to commuters of riding public transportation is the chance to relax during the ride or even get an early start on work.

Of course, the best option is to live close enough to walk or ride a bike to work, which will cost virtually nothing and potentially save thousands every year in commuting costs.