Workers With Short or 'Active' Commutes Are Happier Campers

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hands on steering wheel in traffic
Stress plays the job of keeping you alert and telling you to pay attention. (Photo: MvanCaspel/Shutterstock)

This will hardly come as a surprise if you've sat in grueling rush hour traffic on your way to work. A new study from researchers in Australia found that the length and type of your commute can affect not only how happy you are at work but also your productivity when you get there.

Researchers surveyed 1,121 employees from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane who worked full-time and went into the office every day. Their jobs were in a range of industries and occupations.

They found that workers with long-distance commutes had more missed work days than those with shorter commutes. The researchers contributed that to two factors.

First, workers who have long commutes are more likely to get sick and miss work. They also receive less net income (because of commuting costs) and have less leisure time. So they're more likely to take time off to avoid the costs and time.

The average commute for those cities is about 15 kilometers (9.3 miles). Workers with a commute of just 1 kilometer (.6 mile) have 36% fewer absent days than those with an average commute. Workers who commute 50 kilometers (31 miles) have 22% more absent days than workers with an average commute.

The researchers also found that middle-aged commuters who walk or ride their bikes to work — known as "active" commuters — report better productivity than people who drive or take public transportation.

Both these short-distance and active commuters say they were "relaxed, calm, enthusiastic and satisfied" with their commuting trips, according to researchers, and more productive at work. Their findings were published in the Journal of Transport Geography.

The link between commuting and productivity

smiling businesswoman with bike
People who walk or bike to work say their commutes are 'relaxing and exciting.'. nd3000/Shutterstock

When you're in the car for a long time before you even get to the office, it's no wonder your productivity can take a hit.

There are several theories explaining the link, study authors Liang Maa and Runing Yeb point out in The Conversation.

"Urban economic theory provides one explanation of the link between commuting and productivity. It argues that workers make trade-offs between leisure time at home and effort in work. Therefore, workers with long commutes put in less effort or shirk work as their leisure time is reduced," they write.

"Commuting can also affect work productivity through poorer physical and mental health. Low physical activity can lead to obesity as well as related chronic diseases, significantly reducing workforce participation and increasing absenteeism. The mental stress associated with commuting can further affect work performance."

Studies have found that when you walk or bike to work instead of sitting in your car, those commutes feel "relaxing and exciting." However, being stuck in a car in traffic is perceived as "stressful and boring." Starting your workday with these positive or negative feelings can impact your emotions on the job.

To make workers happier and more productive, the researchers say employers should promote active commuting — maybe by offering showers and changing rooms.

"Encourag[ing] active commuting not only improves the physical health of employees, but may also enhance their job performance, contributing to the economic benefits to employers and society."