The dreaded morning commute. Whether it lasts minutes or hours, the stress of daily commutes takes a toll on employees’ moods and motivation – and in the long run, on a company’s bottom line. Jon M. Jachimowicz, PhD Candidate at Columbia Business School, and Geraldine Delplanque, Sodexo Global Marketing Director of Mobility & Expenses, shed some light on how we can offset the negative effects of commuting.
The practice of commuting has evolved quite a bit recently – how do these changes affect commuters?
Jon M. Jachimowicz: Over the past several years, commuting time has been steadily increasing. Due to factors such as urban sprawl, it’s becoming more and more expensive for employees to live close to their place of work and therefore, commuting is becoming more prevalent and widespread. Currently, the average global commute time clocks in at 38 minutes each way – a figure that equates to roughly 300 hours per year, or more than 10 percent of the total working time. On top of that, a number of forecasts project that commuting time is going to increase in the years to come. And let’s not forget that employees consistently rate commuting, especially the morning commute, as the worst part of their work day.
Geraldine Delplanque: I agree, urbanization trends are greatly impacting commute times. This is a growing concern given that in the context of the war for talent, commuting is emerging as a key topic. That said, I would also like to point out a piece of good news: innovative commuting solutions are also underway. Not so long ago, we had very limited commuting options: personal cars and public transport. Today, multimodal solutions are a reality. You can begin commuting by car and finish with a city bike, for example – or even use ride sharing platforms. Dynamic parking is also developing. It may even be possible that seeking out these types of varied solutions may reduce the negative consequences of commuting.
How does reducing the negative effects of commuting correspond to how the rest of their day will go?
J.M.J.: Commuters are not just moving between physical spaces, they also psychologically occupy different roles. For example, when you’re at home, you might take the role of a parent, and when you’re at work, you take on the role of a coworker or a manager. Someone who uses their commute to not only physically, but mentally transition from their home to their work role is ready to start their day and take on the demands of their respective work roles as soon as they arrive. Our research has shown that when we don’t transition adequately, we experience displeasure that can drain us and lead to job dissatisfaction and exhaustion.
G.D.: Yes, I have seen this firsthand with our clients – a bad commute leads to stress in the workplace, which can have huge consequences on efficiency and focus, lower interaction with colleagues and of course, cause health problems such as headaches, sleep disorders, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems problems. All these factors can ultimately fuel employees’ demotivation.
Jon, in your research, you speak directly to this point of combating commute-related stress. Can you provide some insight?
J.M.J.: Depending on where we live, we don’t always have much control over the means of commuting; however, we do have some control over what we do or think about while commuting. That can include either things that bring immediate gratification – daydreaming, listening to music – or things that provide more long-term value – thinking ahead about plans for the day, goals and schedules. Our research shows that individuals who score higher on one personality facet, trait self-control, are more likely to engage in thoughts that reflect a long-term orientation. In other words, these individuals are more likely to contemplate the work day ahead of them. As a result, they are also less likely to be negatively affected by long commutes because this work-related prospection allows them to more efficiently transition into their work role during their morning commute.
What can companies do to improve employee commutes?
J.M.J.: It is important that companies understand that commuting affects the way that people feel about and behave at work. For this reason, management shouldn’t only care about employees from the moment they step into the office, they need to have a more holistic view. The way in which employees commute and the duration of their commutes influences the way that they feel about working and how they will behave and perform at work. It is linked to their likelihood of staying with – or leaving – the organization.
G.D.: Companies can also play a key role in fostering new practices and opening the door to new ways of working – for commuting this means allowing for customization and flexibility. Commuting has become multimodal and versatile, meaning that a company’s role will not only be to help employees get to work in the morning, but also to give them access to the best transportation options at any time of the day.
Pioneering companies are also currently searching for unique alternatives to the traditional workplace. Today, the physical presence of some employees is no longer required. In this respect, working from home or a nearby co-working facility is a great way to avoid commuting altogether. In addition, offering flexibility in arrival time has proven to be very efficient and it clearly enhances work-life balance, allowing employees to organize the day in a way that is most efficient for them.
Geraldine, can you tell us a bit more about Sodexo’s multimodal solutions?
G.D.: We have one solution that has been specifically designed to remove, among other things, the commuters’ pain points: the XXImo Mobility Card. These cards enable commuters and business travelers to travel and pay hassle-free with one single solution – whether by car, taxi, train, tram, bus, car share, public bike share and plane. The XXImo platform and merchant network make it possible to digitalize the whole expense process, from transaction, authorization and cost allocation to direct processing in the accounts.
It even goes one step further in facilitating mobility for employees with the new MILO app that helps commuters to get where they need to go, on time and with the best itinerary. For example, a quick toggle between the car and public transport and the route will be automatically recalculated. You can also pay for public transportation, taxi and parking with Milo. The concept behind this app is to develop a digital assistant that proposes multimodal alternatives and perfect timing.
And finally, Jon, in your experience, are there any tools that companies aren’t making adequate use of to improve the employee experience?
J.M.J.: Many big companies are sitting on a treasure trove of data. They know how long employees commute, how satisfied they are at work, which ones plan on leaving – but they don’t sufficiently analyze all this data. This data makes it possible to build predictive models of who is most likely to leave the organization, why some employees perform better than others, and what they can do to change these. Companies often lack the theoretical background, the analytical skills or simply don’t think holistically. As a researcher, my goal is to work with companies to answer these questions and help them understand their employees better because those insights ultimately help us to advance the state of research.