People roll out of bed early and climb into the car, knowing that while they drive they’re missing out on time with their partner and kids, a morning exercise session, or an extra hour of sleep. They sit in traffic alongside other tired drivers, feeling frustrated and stressed, getting cut off by other people impatient to get ahead. They get close to work and start the long search for a parking spot, circling further and further from the office, watching the clock as they become late for the first meeting of the day.
They arrive out of breath, knowing that in two hours they’ll have to walk back and move the car, because the only park they could find was time restricted. When they sit down and begin working they feel resentful and exhausted, already off on the wrong foot - and it’s only 9am. They think, ‘I like my job, but this isn’t worth it.’ Eventually, they start looking for other job opportunities.
This experience is sadly common, with the commute to and from work consistently ranked as two of the most negative experiences of the day, and costing workers time, money, and their health. That pain contributes to many resignation decisions, as well as affecting engagement and performance at work.
Let’s dig into what makes the commute so painful, how exactly that pain affects businesses, and what you can do to change the game - and create commutes that make staff happier, healthier, and more productive.
The link between long commutes and poor health has been studied by researchers across both Britain and the United States. We now know that commuting is connected to various health problems, as well as lower overall life satisfaction.
Research from Britain’s Healthiest Workplace found that longer-commuting workers are:
Similarly, research by the University of Waterloo found that workers with the longest commutes have the lowest overall satisfaction with life, while Princeton University found that 28 percent of commute time was classified as ‘unpleasant’, and that reducing commute time could be emotionally beneficial.
In fact, the commute is so disliked that people would trade five minutes of leisure time to save one minute sitting in traffic.
Closely related to the effect on health is the cost that commuting has to leisure time. One of the key reasons that people dislike commuting so much is that they know they could be spending that time on something better - like socialising, exercising, or learning new things.
Even if most of your staff only have a 25 or 30 minute commute, which is around the average for Americans, Britons, Australians, and New Zealanders, that means 9 or more days of driving to and from work each year.
“For people with jobs outside of the home, travel to and from the workplace can significantly extend the working day and eat into leisure and family time. Furthermore, commuting does not just take up time; it can also be stressful, tiring and expensive.”
- How’s Life? Measuring Well-Being, OECD
A significant portion of that commute time can be spent on looking for a car park, since between thirty and forty percent of CBD congestion in major cities comes from people searching for a place to park, with workers easily spending five to fifteen minutes looking for a park every morning.
Much of this problem comes from the lack of transparency over parking availability, as the only option is for people to drive around until they see an available parking spot.
If your workplace offers first-in-first-served staff parking, but doesn’t provide an easy way for staff to check parking availability or reserve a parking spot in advance, this could be a significant source of time-waste and frustration. Platforms like Parkable make parking bookable and transparent, removing uncertainty and time waste for staff. Learn more
As well as being a time-sink, a daily driven commute is an on-going expense, especially as high fuel prices and sprawling cities create longer trips, more maintenance costs, and more frequent stops at the gas station. Staff using on-street or public parking have an additional expense, one which is getting increasingly steep as cities hike up parking prices.
For staff on more modest incomes, transport and parking costs can consume a significant portion of the pay cheque.
It’s well-established that negative feelings and health outcomes relating to the commute affect employees’ decisions to leave their jobs. The commute is the third largest motivator of voluntary attrition, and in a survey on commuting and retention by Robert Half, 23% of people said they have left a job because of the pain of their commute.
"Commutes can have a major impact on morale and, ultimately, an employee's decision to stay with or leave a job. In today's candidate-driven market, skilled workers can have multiple offers on the table. Professionals may not need to put up with a lengthy or stressful trip to the office if there are better options available."
- Paul McDonald, Senior Executive Director for Robert Half
A number of individual companies, such as Xerox, KeyBank, Gate Gourmet, and Workday, have conducted their own research and found that commute time is predictive of staff engagement and retention. In one example, the likelihood of quitting a job increased to over 92% for employees with a commute time of 30 to 45 minutes.
On the other side of this problem is the fact that employees with short commutes remain with their employers on average 20% longer. This has led companies like Facebook to offer staff a $7,000 annual bonus for living within a mile of the office.
The importance of the commute has also been quantified in monetary terms:
That means that even companies addressing staff dissatisfaction through pay rises may have a problem with retention, if they aren’t also addressing the unpleasantness of the commute.
The commute is also a significant consideration when people are choosing whether to accept a job offer. A 2019 report surveying 1,202 full-time employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents would choose an employer that offers remote work options over an employer that does not, in large part because people want to avoid commuting.
A long, expensive, or stressful commute is especially unappealing if it isn’t acknowledged and compensated for by the company. Plus, if part of the problem is the expense of parking or public transport, and your company doesn’t offer an additional transport allowance, that effectively reduces your employees’ discretionary incomes and makes your salary offers less valuable.
Similarly, workplaces that have rigid work policies, such as not allowing employees to work from home or start and finish their days at flexible times, can alienate potential candidates and create the impression of a less compassionate work culture.
In the workplace, one of the biggest causes of lost productivity is constant distractions and interruptions. These distractions come in many forms, but for centrally-located businesses, difficult staff parking adds another disruptive element.
Before implementing Parkable, staff at companies like EMD and Dentsu Aegis used scarce, time-restricted street parking, resulting in both anxious mornings and the need to check and move their cars a number of times each day. Staff worry about parking tickets, break the flow of work, and waste time finding another parking spot and then walking back to the office.
Not only does this mean fewer productive work hours each week, but the increased pressure and stress caused by interruptions has been found to double error rates, and even reduces IQ scores. Since employees are interrupted on average every 11 minutes, and it takes nearly half an hour to refocus after being distracted, a workplace filled with distractions can affect a huge portion of each workday.
Not only does lost productivity cost businesses millions in revenue, but it also negatively affects employees. Less productivity results in pressure to work faster and extend the workday, which leads to frustration, stress, and reduced engagement. In fact, a survey by Udemy finds that 34% of staff like their jobs less when in a distracting workplace.
Because employees commonly view the commute as part of their job, they also attribute their negative feelings about their commute to their work. This is one of the reasons that commuting is the second-most common source of workplace stress, despite it occuring outside work hours.
For some employees, this stress and the associated negative feelings are particularly strong. Working parents who do the morning drop-off often have no choice but to drive in peak-hour traffic and then arrive when parking is particularly scarce. There are also employees who come into work up to two hours early just to secure a parking spot, missing out on a huge chunk of time that could otherwise be spent with family, resting, or working on personal goals.
When the pain of commuting becomes acute, either due to how long people spend traveling or because they feel pressured to organise their daily lives around the commute, this significantly increases the chances of burnout and disengagement - and as we have seen, that leads to higher levels of voluntary attrition.
Despite the harm that poor commuting does to both employees and businesses, the majority of companies aren’t acting to solve the problem - and that provides companies armed with solutions an opportunity to stand out.
Of people surveyed by Robert Half who said that their commute had worsened, 60% said that their employer had not taken steps to reduce the burden on staff. This is despite the fact that over 75% of turnover can be prevented by company intervention - including turnover related to long and painful commutes.
By acknowledging the pain of commuting and making an effort to alleviate that pain, companies can both improve their employees’ lives and show them that the company cares about their wellbeing. Here are five solutions that can improve the commute for your staff:
The first step for most businesses is to become more aware of how commuting affects staff. To do this, send out a survey to learn how your team gets to work, how long the commute takes, what alternative transport options are available, and what prevents drivers from using alternative transport. Also ask staff how their commute affects their personal wellbeing, work engagement, productivity, and the likelihood of looking for another job.
Once you have these insights, you will be able to evaluate your existing commuter benefits and make decisions about which solutions will work best for your business. You can use SurveyMonkey to create your own survey, or click here for a free staff satisfaction and transport survey, designed by market research experts.
Flexible work is becoming increasingly common and sought-after, whether that means remote work or flexible start and finish times.
Flexible start times
By allowing people to choose when they start and finish their workday, they can avoid peak traffic, plan their days around convenient public transport times, and reduce overall time spent commuting.
With cloud-based technology and free conferencing software like Zoom, full and part-time remote work has become an efficient and easy way to cut out the commute. The benefits of remote work are substantial; a US 2019 report surveying 1,202 full-time employees found that:
By shortening or eliminating a portion of the commute for some staff, your employees and company will experience fewer of the pains that bad commuting creates. For a great guide to remote working by Owl Labs, click here.
Some companies compensate for the expense of commuting and parking by providing staff with a transport fund on top of their salary, while others provide free staff parking. This can be hugely important, because in effect an expensive commute that isn’t compensated for by the employer makes salaries less valuable - and that both increases the possibility of voluntary attrition, and makes it more difficult to attract talent.
By compensating for the expense of commuting, not only will your company recover work-related costs and provide employees with more disposable income - you will also be showing staff that you understand the burden of the commute and want to make a difference.
Driving has been found to be the most stressful mode of travel, while active commutes make people feel more productive, energised, and satisfied. If you can get more people walking, cycling, and running to work, you’ll see a range of benefits.
Multiple studies have found that commuting is better when people make social connections or travel with someone else, so one option is encouraging public transport use or carpooling instead of commuting alone.
Despite the benefits of both active and social commutes, the idea of getting people out of their cars can be daunting - so here are a few steps to make your alternative transport campaign a success.
Draw up a travel plan based on the results of your commuting survey. The aim is to effectively engage staff, so consider fun ways to get people involved, financial incentives, and how to make alternative transport convenient and easy. Here are some ideas:
Public transport: Use workplace comms like newsletters, noticeboards, and team meetings to promote awareness about the availability and benefits of public transport - more free time to read or relax, plus cost savings. Allowing for more flexible start and finish times can also enable more people to take public transport, so people can plan their day according to the bus or train timetable.
Cycling: To jump-start some cycling enthusiasm, your team can join a cycling challenge like the Great Cycle Challenge. For long-term success, make sure to provide free, secure bike storage at work, as well as changing rooms and showers. To learn more about promoting cycle commutes, click here.
Walking and running: Start a 10,000-steps-a-day challenge. There are plenty of products that help businesses to manage walking challenges, including The Official 10,000 Steps Program and Walker Tracker. And, just like with cyclists, access to changing rooms and showers can make the difference between nay and yay.
Carpooling: Look into ride-share apps near you, like Kapuddle in Australia and the Smart Travel app in New Zealand. Make sure to incentivise carpooling by reserving part of your car park as ‘carpool only’, or even provide free parking for carpoolers.
See how well your initiatives are going by tracking uptake and conducting follow-up surveys, and make adjustments if need be.
For those who are driving into work, make the commute as quick and easy as possible by optimising the use of your internal car park and giving your staff transparent parking availability. Your staff will have better mornings, easier commutes, and arrive happier and ready to work.
We’ve found that on average, 20-35% of commercial car parks sit vacant during the workday, often because car parks are allocated to people who are away from the office. Instead of letting your space sit empty while staff search for expensive parking elsewhere, you can enable easy sharing of allocated parks and improve occupancy with Parkable.
We surveyed our clients' employees and found that...
As well as these benefits to staff satisfaction and work culture, fitting more employees into your internal car park has a range of business benefits:
Parkable also improves the commute by eliminating parking uncertainty. The app allows staff to check car park availability in real time and reserve a bay the day before, so employees never have to circle the block while a parking spot is available, turn up early to work just to get a park, or feel penalised for having pre-work commitments.
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