The COVID-19 pandemic jolted the world into greater and more immediate awareness of issues related to physical and mental health and wellness. As the ongoing return to office continues, employers are paying increased attention to how commuting affects their team members’ health as well as their broader employee experience.
In 2022, Get There Oregon commissioned a survey of 225 senior human resources (HR) administrators working throughout the state. The survey results relayed some interesting findings with major implications for commuting and the employee experience:
- 96% of respondents cited recruiting and retaining qualified employees as a top concern
- 93% sought to improve employee morale and job satisfaction
- 92% wanted to better protect employee health and wellness
- 83% seek to make progress toward organizational sustainability goals
On the surface, these concerns might not appear related. However, upon digging more deeply into trends affecting the post-pandemic labor market, it becomes apparent that the issues are more interconnected than they might seem.
The Effects of a Difficult Commute on Employee Health and Wellness
Long and stressful commutes often exact a negative toll on both physical and mental health. The University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine explored the ways commuting affects physical health in a 2019 blog post. The post cited multiple issues:
- Extended commutes to and from work often leave people without enough time to get adequate exercise
- Studies have found that people with long commutes tend to get less sleep, and a lack of sleep is a contributing factor to many serious health problems
- Long commutes expose people to greater concentrations of air pollutants, which can take a toll on their respiratory health
- Commuting raises stress levels, especially for drivers, which can also contribute to a host of health problems including heart disease
The Keck School also noted that the demands of the daily grind often leave commuters feeling antisocial, potentially leading to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression. These observations speak to a well-established body of research noting links between arduous commutes, anxiety, and depression.
The relentless need to commute day in and day out can also lead to a cycle of dread directly related to the quotidian journey. According to experts, this can actually cause long-term cognitive changes that rewire the brain to generate negative responses and mood changes.
Notably, researchers report that active commuting has strong positive effects on both the physical and mental health of commuters. Cycling and walking may not be an option for every commuter. However, transportation demand management (TDM) experts stress the importance of improved employer support for active commuting, given the many associated wellness benefits.
How Commuting Can Impact Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction
Unsurprisingly, the long-term mental toll of commuting taints the employee experience by lowering morale and reducing job satisfaction. Eye-opening research from the United Kingdom found that adding 20 extra minutes of travel time onto a commuter’s work day had the same impact on their job satisfaction as a 19% reduction in pay. The study included more than 26,000 workforce members over a five-year period.
As with physical health, travel modes directly impact employee morale and productivity. Improvements are associated with active commuting and shared modes of transportation such as carpooling, while negative impacts on morale and productivity are primarily linked with solo driving.
A Better Employee Experience Leads to Greater Talent Recruitment and Retention Success
The concept of the employee experience took on added urgency as millions of U.S. workers quit their jobs in 2021 and 2022. This so-called Big Quit or Great Resignation put a spotlight on shortcomings employers need to address to improve their talent recruitment and retention efforts in the most challenging labor market in recent memory.
In 2022, leading online career portal Indeed published a deep dive into what job-seekers are looking for in an employee experience. Key findings include:
- Job candidates expect more from their employers and are less likely to settle for the pre-pandemic status quo
- Enhanced support for hybrid and offsite work is emerging as an inflexible expectation for job-seekers
- Employees want more flexible schedules that promote a better work-life balance
Commuting factors into these dynamics in multiple ways. Employers can no longer realistically expect employees to “suck it up” and deal with a long or difficult commute: workers are opting out of those arrangements at unprecedented rates.
Instead, TDM experts suggest that businesses think about remote work as akin to an alternative form of transportation. This type of policy shift prompts employers to integrate telecommuting into their commuter programs more effectively, creating a superior employee experience with direct positive impacts on recruitment and retention.
Commuter Programs that Support Wellness and Improve Morale Also Boost Sustainability
Remote work is not the only option when it comes to improving the employee experience. Ridesharing is linked with lower stress and improved productivity, while researchers established links between choosing public transportation as a commuting option and better health a long time ago.
Modes like ridesharing, public transportation, and active commuting do more than support health, wellness, and productivity. They also help organizations make meaningful progress toward their sustainability goals, which was a major priority for 83% of Get There Oregon’s 2022 survey respondents.
Tying It All Together: How RideAmigos Can Help Partners Build Better Employee Experiences
Talent recruitment and retention, employee morale, job satisfaction, and sustainability are not issues that exist in vacuums. They all form an integral part of the kind of positive employee experience job-seekers want from the post-pandemic return to office. Given the ongoing struggles of many employers to fill critical vacancies, companies that make decisive, forward-thinking moves in these directions have the potential to realize significant competitive advantages in the post-pandemic economic landscape.
At RideAmigos, we have been working with leading employers and public-facing commuter programs for over a decade to make commuting easier and more environmentally sustainable. Whether you are just getting started with commute management or already have robust TDM and commuter benefits programs, we have solutions to empower your organization. Talk to our commute experts now.