The average professional spends a third of their life at work and commutes over 200 hours per year. Since workers devote so much of their time to their jobs, corporate well-being programs aren’t just a nice-to-have anymore; they’re a critical component to happy working life, performance, and retention.

While well-being programs are on the rise, many employers still focus primarily on the physical component of health. In doing so, organizations fail to attend to all aspects of their employees’ health, specifically mental health.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re going to look at one area where mental health and the workplace collide: the commute.

Commuting can be detrimental to mental health

Commute times are at an all-time high, and a lack of affordable housing in metro areas continue to push people further from their jobs, thus restricting access to public transportation. And now, nearly 80% of commuters drive alone to work with the average person enduring a daily round-trip journey of more than 50 minutes. What’s more, there are roughly 3.5 million American workers, or “super commuters,” who travel 90 minutes or more and 50 miles more, commuting to work.

Clearly, people expend a lot of time and energy on their commutes, arguably framing the rest of their day with a possibility to impact their mental health. Unfortunately, research shows that, for many people, that possibility is a reality.

Lower life satisfaction and higher risk for depression

A new study conducted by the University of Waterloo concluded that workers with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life. Researchers at Princeton University discovered that, of all the activities people complete in a given day, the commutes to and from work—specifically by car—consistently ranked as two of the most negative experiences of the day.

People with longer commutes are also 33% more likely to suffer from depression and 37% more likely to have financial concerns. Not only that, 55% of commuters report increased stress levels due to their daily commute.

Decreased productivity and increased turnover

Workers with lengthy commutes subscribe to fewer working hours, caused mainly by the fact that commuting simply makes people unhappy. Happiness in our personal life translates into our working life, and when employees are unhappy, they’re seven times more likely to not only miss work but also experience something called presenteeism, that is, being present at work but not fully functioning.

In one 2001 study about the health consequences of commuting, a fair amount of participants were super commuters and 90% had 45-minute one-way trips, placing both groups in the long-distance category. Lead researcher Steffen Haefner described the condition of these people as “terrible.” Both men and women were exhausted and severely sleep deprived—among a host of physical conditions—which also affects mental health and performance: employees who aren’t getting enough sleep are less focused, irritable, and more stressed.

The preceding mental health challenges can influence retention rates, too.

The commute stands as the third largest driver of voluntary attrition, and 85% of working professionals would at least consider leaving a company in exchange for a shorter commute. Moreover, The Commuting and Wellbeing Study found that a 20-minute roundtrip increase in commute time has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as a 19% pay cut. Unsurprisingly, workers with low job satisfaction are far more likely to quit than someone who is satisfied and engaged with work.

Address the commute and support mental health at work

As a business leader and employer, you have a fundamental responsibility to help your people sustain their mental health. And in homage to Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s never been a better time to address the inextricable link between commuting and mental health. Visit takescoop.com/partners to learn more about how to provide an impactful commute solution to your workforce.


Sam Sandler

Sam Sandler

Sam Sandler was the Content Writer at Scoop until August 2019, serving as the primary contributor and editor for the Scoop blog and overseeing brand voice across the company. In her spare time, you can find her binge-watching all the shows you probably binge, too.

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