Most human resource activities revolve around employee retention. Why? It’s simple. Employees are the bread and butter of all organisations. Without them they simply wouldn’t function. And with companies investing heavily in training and development, employees are valuable company assets. Balancing the corporate culture, remuneration and incentives is a delicate act when looking to make staff happy and retain them for the long haul. Yet obviously the secret to keeping employees long term has not been mastered as businesses like mine wouldn’t exist in abundance. Add to the mix the negative effects of a long work commute on staff happiness and you are facing a long uphill battle in achieving long and continuous levels of employee retention.

It wasn’t that long ago that Australians were up in arms over our public transport system’s failure to get us from A to B in an acceptable time. Granted our Federal and State governments have invested heavily to improve this with some success. Though a study undertaken only twelve months ago revealed that Melbournians are averaging 29.5 minutes commuting to work one way each day. That’s nearly one hour per day or approximately 10 days per year! Thank your lucky stars though if you do not live in Sydney. Sydneysiders spend an average of 31.7 minutes commuting one way to work each day while Adelaide residents average less than 15 minutes.

Wondering what the real cost of a long work commute to businesses was, I delved a little deeper. I found that the length of time taken to getting to and from work was not so much of an issue to most, but what happened during that time does largely have a negative impact. A survey by Regus demonstrated that the seven most annoying aspects of commuting to work are as follows:

  1. Dangerous drivers
  2. Traffic jams
  3. Road rage
  4. People talking too loudly on mobile phones
  5. Pollution and overheating
  6. Lack of adequate information from service providers
  7. Body odour of other commuters or smelly food.

Granted a lot of commuters use this time productively. They make phone calls, listen to music, catch up on the daily news or check their emails. Yet what if you were stuck on an overcrowded train or tram (not unusual), with elbows poking into you while someone to your left carried on a loud and obnoxious conversation. Not exactly the perfect start to a day. In fact, I think that most of us would arrive at the office in quite a grumpy mood. Day after day it would be enough for many of us to consider finding a job with a less stressful commute.

Population growth, increases in the number of jobs within cities and high real estate pricing (both sales and rentals) mean that many of us must work within the major metropolises but live within the more affordable outer suburbs. Surprisingly though the commute times of those living within the inner circle of major cities averaged only a marginally shorter commute time.

Yes businesses are advocating flexible work times and locations, but not all jobs can be performed effectively external to the job site. For those who can enjoy this flexibility, the financial advantages will certainly be noticed – despite improvements to our roads and public transport, travel costs add up. We are also acutely aware that our most productivity hours are the morning hours. So are we spending our most productive time playing Candy Crush on the train? Or, are we having to forgo sleep? The time it takes to prepare a fresh and healthy lunch? Physical activity? What is the real cost of a long commute to our lives and our ability to perform well at work? Your employer can tell you that it is costing them optimal productivity output and that means money!

As an employer, do you now consider relocating your business to a more accessible site? Seems a bit extreme. If your employees have the ability to work on their way to work, give them a laptop and count their commute time towards actual work time. Offering to break up their working week with a day working from home could ease the travel stress and increase productivity, after all we tend to work harder when we work from home. Flexitime allows us to travel outside of peak hours while contributing towards travel costs can improve job satisfaction as could offering support to assist employees to live closer to work. Employers can implement a number of actions to ensure employee retention before a work commute sees productivity heading on a downward trajectory.

Having been among the throngs of people commuting to and from work each day, I don’t believe this is an issue any of us will resolve any time soon. There are many actions that we can start undertaking now though to curb this increasing issue. Collaborating with staff to address this very real issue is a good starting point to understanding the true effects of long work commutes and how best to resolve the issues it presents. Just demonstrating that you have an awareness and sensitivity to the matter can make a noticeable difference. And if you can’t reduce travel times, perhaps you can find a way to improve them.


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