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When Is Commuting Worth It?

26 Apr 2022

The potential time and resources spent commuting has become an important consideration for anyone mulling switching jobs. Check out this blog post to find out whether commuting is worth it!

Commuting or the practice of traveling a certain distance or a time period to and from work has been around for millenia. These last few years have been unique insofar as they bucked this millenia long trend and opened the doors for remote work. Even with the pandemic subsiding (or countries learning how to cope with it), many have grown used to their remote work routines and schedules. 

One thing is absolutely certain – the commuting requirement will become a factor to consider when switching jobs or careers along with such things as pay, benefits, and management. The real question is, how to measure the role commuting plays in your overall well being and through that in your job considerations?

This is the question we’ll tackle in this blog post. I’ll present the main factors to consider, evaluate, and compare when considering whether commuting will work for you.

The Current Debate Around Commuting

According to Gallup in 2021 55% of full-time workers in the US had to commute, while the remainder worked partially or fully from home. Pre-pandemic statistics concerning commuters show that the average American travels more than 32 miles and spends 1.5 hours on their journeys. Most of these rides are tiring and not particularly socially enriching as over 76% of these commuters drive alone

Europeans are no strangers to commuting either. Although the most recent data are unavailable, shortly before the pandemic over 90% of Europeans commuted to work daily. While the average commute for a European is shorter, a still significant 25% spent more than 30 minutes on their commutes. Even if the number of commuters in Europe has been significantly reduced due to remote working, tens of millions of adults still commute every day.

The effects of commuting vary based on the demographic group, the means of travel, the time involved, and a whole panoply of factors. However, a comprehensive study of over 40 000 individuals has shown two major trends that have to be taken into account:

  • every extra minute commuting reduces job satisfaction and overall quality of life;
  • working from home or walking/cycling to work (short commutes) increase the likelihood of job retention.

If there is one thing to draw from this, it’s that if there is a choice between commuting or not, it should be considered just as carefully as all other aspects of a job (pay, colleagues, tasks, management etc.).

How To Think About Commuting

Let’s say you have a job offer which you are seriously considering. If commuting is one of the main determinants, here are things that should be in your cost-benefit analysis.

What is your relationship with commuting?

Almost all of us have had some experience with commuting. The time involved and the means of it may differ, but most have some grasp of what it feels like and, most importantly, how much of it we can bear.

This is a very specific experience to each individual, but it is absolutely essential to understand.  You don’t want to commit to doing something you despise for hours each week. So use your past experiences and gut feeling to understand how much of commuting you can handle without negatively impacting your mental health, relationships, or productivity.

Does commuting align with your current priorities?

The second thing to understand is whether commuting aligns with your current priorities. If you are at a point in your life when you have time, resources, and willingness to build your career – all the power to you!

Others may be at a stage when family life or family obligations come first. For example, you may have kids with whom you want to spend as much of their valuable formative years as possible. Or you may have family members to look out for due to their age or illness. Each case is different, but you have to carefully think whether the time you spend commuting could not be spent more meaningfully.

Does commuting to a workplace outweigh the opportunity costs?

We usually have numerous goals – both as individuals and as members of a group (relationship, family). Since we have limited time and resources, achieving these goals inevitably involves tradeoffs. Opportunity costs are exactly that – an estimation of what we lose by choosing to do something else.

Let’s say you get a job that offers a 30% pay rise, but commuting to and fro takes 2-3 hours every day. This may seem like a no-brainer initially, but these hours may eat away what little time you had for all sorts of other tasks and responsibilities (picking kids up from school, preparing meals, taking the dog for a walk etc.). If all these tasks fall on your significant other, it may limit their job opportunities, if not their entire careers. If you have to pay someone else to do it, you just have to estimate whether all the ordered food, babysitters, and other potential expenses do not erase any benefits that could have arisen from the job in the first place.

In a nutshell, consider all the opportunity costs originating from your commute and see whether they are worth it!

Do you like the job enough to commute?

It is always important to consider whether you actually like the job and your potential tasks enough to consider taking on the new burden of commuting. If you have to suffer through a commute to do a job you don’t particularly like, the arrangement will neither be long, nor a happy one.

Does the job have potential?

Of course, in the real world many of us never get a dream job, so look at the question from another angle – does the job have potential to turn into something better? Grinding through can be worth it if: 

1) you have a clear career path ahead;

2) the skills that you’ll acquire will open more and better opportunities in the future.

There is a reason why people jump at any possibility to join investment banks and one of the top consulting firms – if not disillusioned by the end of the experience, the future job prospects will be astounding.

Do the pay and benefits outweigh the cost of commuting?

While I like to think that we are not all materialistic creatures, a pay rise is definitely a nice perk to have. Of course, it has to be considered together with all the other factors outlined before to understand – how big of a pay rise justifies suffering through certain time commuting?

Other benefits a job may offer should also be considered. These may include extra days off, 401(k), stock options, health insurance etc. Some employers may even consider reimbursing some of the expenses tied to commuting.

Are there any benefits that arise from the commute?

Not all commutes are made equal. Driving a car to work is usually more expensive, tiring, and frustrating than taking public transportation. When driving you can’t really do anything apart from listening to podcasts or radio. And since most people drive to work alone, socializing is out of question. Returning to the opportunity cost argument – driving to work alone is probably the worst way you can spend your time financially and emotionally.

But it doesn’t have to be the case. Commuting using public transportation is not just greener and cheaper (especially these days), but it can also be a great opportunity for relaxation (reading, listening to music, watching movies) or getting some work done on a side project. Both walking and cycling to work allows you to get your head and body ready for the day ahead.

Final Thoughts

To finish off, let’s return to the study I mentioned before. To recap, it basically said that the negative impacts of commuting can be reduced by working from home or shortening travel time or distance.

The pandemic and the mandatory work from home system put paid to that claim. As Harvard Business Review has shown, the claim that work from home will do miracles to job satisfaction and employee happiness has failed to deliver. In fact, job satisfaction and general mental health have continued to deteriorate. What gives?

Experts explain that some commutes were genuinely beneficial to us, particularly the ones that involve walking or cycling. These were part of our daily rituals not just individually, but culturally. Disrupting such a huge part of our lives has consequences.

If you do your cost-benefit analysis and choose a job that can be done remotely, perfect bliss will not follow out of nowhere. Combining the conclusions of the aforementioned studies we see that ditching commuting is only the first step. Creating and maintaining active lifestyle rituals, preferably before work, is essential to your physical and mental wellbeing!  

Luckily we have you covered on this front! Check out our previous blog posts on active lifestyle and habit formation to learn how you can Be Prime!

Author: Lote Steina

How to Find Balance in Your Life?
15 Jul 2020
Building Your Anger Management Skills
25 May 2022
Life doesen't have a do-over.
Commit to it! BePrime!
Life doesen't have a do-over.
Commit to it! BePrime!