Here’s the Best Way to Keep Staff with Long Commutes Productive

Letting them work from home may not be the answer.

They might get to catch up on the latest Game of Thrones series or listen to their favorite album. But everyone knows long commutes are generally depressing affairs that are probably hazardous to mental and physical health.

They also drain productivity, according to the results of a new British study, which suggest that CEOs who react by merely allowing staff to work from home could be making a big mistake.

Employees commuting less than 30 minutes to work gain an additional seven days’ worth of productive time each year, compared to those with commutes of 60 minutes or more, according to the study of more than 34,000 workers.

“employers should be looking at flexible working arrangements as a more prominent part of their workplace wellness or productivity management strategy.”

Conducted by insurance company VitalityHealth, in conjunction with Cambridge University and consultancy Mercer, it found that long commuters were 33% more likely to suffer from depression.

These workers also were 37% more likely to have financial concerns, 46% more likely to get less than seven hours sleep each night and 21% more likely to be obese.

Virgin CEO Richard Branson is among leaders who advocate allowing staff to spend more time working from home. “Too many companies don’t realize the monotony of a lot of people’s day-to-day life at work,” Branson said in a recent blog post. “I try to encourage chief executives worldwide to make sure there’s as much flexibility in the workplace as possible.”

Interestingly, however, this latest study questioned whether allowing workers with long commutes to stay at home was the answer. These workers actually tended to be the least productive of the lot, losing 29 working days worth of time each year.

To get the balance right, managers may want to consider being more flexible. But perhaps not as flexible as Branson suggested.

One solution would be to allow staff to clock on and off at times that help them avoid the rush hour. Would it really be that disruptive, for example, to allow some staff to work a 10 AM to 6 PM shift?

Alternatively, daily routines could be tailored to help long commuters better manage work commitments. So, for example, an important weekly meeting could be scheduled later in the day, rather than first thing in the morning.

Employers also could consider introducing financial wellness programs specially targeted at travel expenses.

“Our research suggests that employers should perhaps be looking at flexible working arrangements as a more prominent part of their workplace wellness or productivity management strategy,” VitalityHealth strategy director Shaun Subel said.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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