Commuting as a "second job" – an additional stress factor?


Monday morning – all over Europe, the rush hour has begun. People are getting into cars, trains and buses, to make sure they get to work on time. In some cases, this involves long journeys. The number of long-distance commuters, in particular, is constantly reaching new highs. But what effect does commuting have on our job satisfaction and our perceived levels of stress?

Forecasts suggest that commuting is set to become an even greater mass phenomenon in the future. There is a wide range of reasons for this: a lack of living space in big cities or at least not enough affordable housing, an increase demand for flexibility in today's working world, and the ever-increasing mobility of our society. All these factors are resulting in a steady increase in both the number of people commuting and the distances being covered.

According to a study by Michael Page, 39 percent of Europeans spend more than 45 minutes travelling to work. Bringing up the rear are the Italians and the French, both with an average of 45 minutes. The Portuguese spend the least time travelling, with an average of 34 minutes, followed by the Spanish with 36 minutes.1

What impact does our daily commute have on us?

A long commute has a wide range of different effects on us – it can impact our health, our stress levels, our productivity and also our social relationships. Whether this impact is positive or negative will vary from person to person. For many people, commuting means an added burden. Tiredness, difficulties concentrating and headaches are just a few of the possible consequences, and these can lead to lower performance in the long-term. A longer journey to work also reduces the amount of free time you have. Friends and family might be neglected on account of a lack of time. However, the effects are not necessarily all negative. This was, for example, demonstrated in a German study. The majority of German commuters are happy in their workplace and rated living close to work as less and less important in terms of the attractiveness of a job. Stress here is also often not caused by commuting. Studies on how stressed people feel in German workplaces show that long journeys to work tend to be of lesser significance as a cause of stress at work – just under a fifth of those asked cited "a long commute" when asked which factors lead to them experiencing physical and psychological stress.2 Instead of letting themselves get stressed by the time spent travelling, many commuters in fact use the time to increase their productivity and to do something useful.

Making the best out of the situation 

Whether you like it or not – in many cases, there is no way around a long commute to work. So the maxim has to be to make the best out of the situation. It can be especially helpful to use the time spent commuting productively and not to see it as lost time. Exactly what this means will depend on the individual – whether they listen to an audio book, read, or do some preparation for an important project – the key thing is to make productive use of the time. Employers can also offer support to staff who have a long commute. Flexible working models, the option to work from home and later starting times for meetings are just a few of the possible options. Subsidised travel tickets or the provision of plenty of parking spaces can also help to ease the situation for commuters.

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