A long day's journey


We know that commuting is bad for us: bad for our health, for our wallet, and for our state of mind. However, we may not have considered that commuting might also be bad for our relationships.

According to a recent Swedish survey, a commute of over 45 mins for just one partner in a marriage could increase the risk of divorce by 40%. The figures are as startling as they are logical. After all, it makes sense that the strain of the commute could impact 'happy-making' activities like sex, playing with the kids, or taking the dog for a walk. In short, commuting can deprive us of life's most basic pleasures and, so it seems, our life-partners.

However, it is not only our home life that is affected by a lengthy journey. A senior manager from a major investment bank confesses that, like millions of Americans, he chooses a longer commute in exchange for a bigger house, better schools, and a lower cost of living.

"I commute by public transport a total of 4 hours per day. Before I even get to work, I am in a bad mood. I put my head down and get on with the job. I don't talk to anyone unless I have to. At the end of the day, I ignore all social invitations from my colleagues to run for my train."

So if public transport is stressful and frustrating and puts us in an unsociable mood, how do people cope with a long drive to work? Not much better, it seems. The 2010 IBM Commuter Pain Study revealed that over the last three years, traffic congestion has become worse in the 20 major cities surveyed.

Of the 8,000 drivers assessed, a large percentage reported increased levels of stress and anger, as well as an impaired work performance. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority would rather work longer hours in the office than suffer a lengthy commute, if given the choice. Judging by these results, it appears that many of us would choose more hours at the office over the pain of our daily commute.

With all the negative implications associated with commuting, you might imagine that working from home/remotely would be the most obvious solution. However, the Flexible Working Survey 2010 carried out by the US-based automotive systems supplier, Johnson Controls tells us otherwise. Based on 479 participants from across six continents and 33 countries, the findings are, perhaps, surprising.

In comparison with the results of their first survey carried out in 2002, Johnson Controls discovered a 150% increase of physical presence in the office versus working remotely. Although unproven, the report suggests that this substantial rise is a response to the global recession.

In times of uncertainty and job instability, it appears that employees want to 'be seen' to be proving their worth to their employers. In the same report, 85% also stated that their main motivation for going into the office was to meet other people.

So we might conclude that a large portion of us are willing to tolerate a painful commute and all its consequences, in order to be present in the office and to meet with and collaborate with our colleagues. But what happens when the stress of a long commute impairs our work performance (as reported in the IBM survey) and puts a strain on our working relationships?

The investment banker quoted above states that he is in a 'bad mood' before he even gets to his desk, which impedes on his willingness to socialise or even interact with his staff and his colleagues, unless he has to.

Arguably, a happy work life is dependent on social interaction and friendly communication when it comes to bonding with our colleagues. Those water-cooler moments and after-work events are vital in cementing relationships outside the constraints of office politics.

However, if we are simply 'not in the mood' to engage with our colleagues, or lack the time to go for a quick drink and a chat after work, because we are so anxious about that journey home, then there is a real risk that discontent, loneliness and low morale could set in, leading to a lack of cohesion within the team; all of which may result in a lacklustre work performance.

Surely, it is as important to play as hard as we work? If our 'long day's journey' really does affect our professional and personal relationships to such a degree, then maybe it's time to re-evaluate the benefits of the long commute, and decide if that big house in the countryside is really worth the stress, at home and at work.


About The Author

Emma Murray
Emma Murray

Emma Murray is a freelance writer with a background in investment banking. She is the author of 'The Unauthorized Guide to Doing Business the Alan Sugar Way' and 'How to Succeed as a Freelancer in Publishing' – a guide for graduates, career-changers and retired professionals.

Older Comments

I think it's important that some, not all, of the reactivity and 'bad mood' stuff is a function of what we do during that commuting time. Some stew, act out, fume, re-fight old fights, and otherwise engage in some flavor of negativity-feeling like the victim.

On the other hand, there is the choice to use that time constructively-breathing, sensing one's body, listening to soft/healing music, or affirmations, or positive stories, or continuous-learning CDs, expressing gratitude, praying and the like.

I'm sure there are those for whom a long commute is a respite from the world, a heaven, and there are those for whom a 20-minute commute is hell. Much depends on our attitude and approach to the experience.

Lastly, the emotional reactivity of the long commute does not begin the second one begins the commute. The emotional reactivity (stress, upset, negativity...) has been in that person's psyche long before the commute begins (and ends). The commute might exacerbate it, but the 'bad mood' issue is a symptom of a deeper problem, not the cause of an individual's upset. There are many folks who have relationship issues and the like who work from home.

Peter Vajda atlanta, ga