The commuting crisis— how to support your employees

Health Assured CEO and workplace wellbeing expert David Price discusses why employers should care about their staff;s journey to work.

An estimated 90% of the UK workforce commutes to work. Depending on the area, the average commute time can be as much as 80 minutes. That’s six and a half hours a week spent just getting to and from work. And according to the ONS, the majority of these take a ‘non-active’ mode of transport.

Studies show that people who commute long distances—at least for 25 minutes a day—report lower health and satisfaction levels. They even report a higher number of GP appointments. It’s clear, then, that commuting can be a negative health factor.

How does commuting affect mental health?

Commuting to and from work every day does many things to your life:

–         It can increase stress.

–         It can bring about bad eating habits.

–         It can reduce the time spent with family.

–         It can reduce physical activity.

–         It can even reduce sleep.

None of these are great for mental health.

Work can already be stressful—that’s not necessarily bad, we thrive on a little bit of stress. But if getting to and from work is stressful in itself, then we’re starting and ending the day in a bad, stressful place.

If we see less of our families, we loosen the social bonds we have—and those bonds are incredibly important to a healthy mind. And when we reduce our physical activity and sleep, we run the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as increasing the likelihood of suffering from depression.

So, what can employers do to lessen these risks?

Combating the risks of commuting

Probably the best way—and a slightly overlooked one—is getting rid of the commute entirely. Well, not always entirely, but allowing workers a day per week to work from home is a massive help. Those who have to deal with the horrors of the school run will thank you from the bottom of their hearts, and those who travel hours each way will appreciate the potential for extra sleep.

If remote working isn’t possible, then consider flexible working. One of the biggest stressors caused by commuting is the sheer number of people vying for space on trains and buses every morning. By letting people start and finish earlier or later, you’re making everybody’s life a little easier. Trains are far less full at 10 am—and there’ll be fewer people on the 8 am trains if they’re optional.

Of course, these options aren’t available to all. In that case, a great way to relieve stressors and give your staff a way to deal with life’s issues is with an employee assistance programme. These wellbeing services give you a host of ways to work through mental health difficulties, with helplines that let you talk through problems with qualified staff in a solution-focused way.