David Rodeck

The Toll a Tough Commute Takes on Employee Health

Being stuck in the occasional traffic jam is a nuisance. But when you do it every single workday, it can create a serious health risk. Don’t underestimate just how much of a toll a tough work commute can take on your employees’ health and productivity.

Here’s what your employees are dealing with — and how you can help.

The Health Risks of a Long Work Commute

With traffic, tough road conditions and bad drivers, driving can be an extremely stressful activity. The longer someone’s on the road, the more stress builds, which can strain the body, including your heart, and cause headaches, anxiety, depression and backaches from sitting too long.

A long commute can also lead to higher blood pressure and cholesterol, since employees who spend a lot of time on the road may not have much of their mornings or evenings left to exercise. Additionally, the more someone drives, the more likely they are to get into a dangerous accident.

Besides the physical health risks, when an employee consistently comes to work after battling a tough commute, chances are they’ll already be tired and irritable. This affects their mental well-being and may make it harder for them to concentrate on their job. After work, a longer trip back home means less time for themselves and their loved ones.

Ways Employers Can Help

Despite the risks of a long commute, for many Americans it’s just an unfortunate part of the workday. The average American employee spends 26.4 minutes commuting each way to work, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means they’re clocking nearly one extra unpaid hour per day on the roads. In large cities, the average commute time can be even longer.

Long commutes are not productive or healthy, and your employees’ well-being would benefit from your support. Though you can’t magically fix the traffic problems in your area, there are still ways you can help employees deal with a tough commute.

Reconsider the typical work schedule. A commute is often painful not because of the distance, but because of the traffic, which is at its worst at around 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Is it possible to adopt a more flexible work schedule and give employees the freedom to come in earlier or leave later? Could some employees move to a four-day workweek with longer hours each day? Your staff would still put in the same number of hours on the job, without wasting time in traffic.

Consider work-from-home days. The easiest commute is no commute at all. Could you give your employees the occasional day to work from home? Or allow them the flexibility to only come into the workplace when they have to, such as when meeting with a client? Though you might be worried about productivity declining, consider this: 59% of employers said their remote workers showed above average performance compared to their regular staff, according to a 2019 survey. That’s the power of starting the workday rested and focused at home.

Be understanding of weather emergencies. Rain, snow and sleet can turn a tough commute into a life-threatening one. If many of your employees already have a long drive to work, let them know that you’d understand if people show up late or even stay home during bad weather. If their position allows for it, it’s better for them to work remotely than to risk their safety on dangerous roads.

Encourage public transportation and carpooling. When an employee is focused on the road, they can’t do much else. But if they take public transportation, they could spend that time reading, sleeping or catching up on work. If you haven’t already, consider setting up tax-free payroll reimbursements for public transportation to help employees afford this option. Similarly, encouraging neighboring employees to carpool allows them to take turns relaxing while also lowering their commuting costs.

Offer on-site exercise or other fun activities. Help employees avoid traffic by giving them a reason to stay at the office until rush hour ends. Amenities and activities such as an on-site gym, yoga classes or a company book club give employees the chance to wait out high-traffic times and do something enjoyable without having to travel to another location. Not to mention, getting employees to the gym will keep them healthier and could reduce your insurance costs.

Invest in a more convenient location. Though it might not be cheap, one other way to lower commute times would be to move your office, either closer to where your employees live or to an area near public transportation hubs. You could also open a second branch in a more convenient location. While this may sound extreme, consider that 23% of employees have quit a job because of a bad work commute. In today’s tight labor market, a more convenient location could pay for itself by reducing turnover and attracting new talent.

With the country’s growing population and aging infrastructure, America’s traffic problems don’t seem likely to go away anytime soon. By taking actions that reduce the strain of a terrible commute, you can make the workdays of your employees a little healthier and a lot less stressful.

Stay up to date on the latest health care regulations and trends for your small business: Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.