Long work commutes – who is to blame?

daily commuteThis week, I want to talk about long work commutes. I read in the press that 800,000 people in the UK spend two or more hours commuting to work. It reported that there has also been a 54% increase in the number of Londoners spending three or more hours getting to and from work each day. Following this news, the TUC general secretary called on employers to offer more home and flexi working to help address the problem.

Am I missing something? I have seen an explosion of home and flexi working in recent years around the UK, and London cabbies will tell you that whilst Friday used to be their busiest day, Fridays’ are now one of the quietest days of the week, simply due to such an explosion of home working. Exactly how much more flexible working should employers offer?

If you ask someone how long their commute is, they might tell you two hours, but often they will omit to mention that one or two days a week they have no commute as they work from home. And that might make you question how many employees actually value working from home with the zero commute.

So I do question whether the TUC should be more questioning of employees’ choices rather than immediately look to employers to solve the problem.

Perhaps you think I am being too harsh? If so, do any of the following ring any bells in relation to those people you know who have long daily commutes:

  • A few years ago when sifting CVs, I rejected several candidates on the basis that they would have a daily commute of over two hours. One rejected candidate phoned me up and said that it was for her to make that call, not me. Clearly work/life balance to her was less important than landing the job she wanted.
  • There are also those employees who actively choose a rural home location over a city location in order to raise their children in a more relaxed environment, to take advantage of lower house prices or to have access to fresh air and open spaces at weekends.
  • Others actively choose a long commute in order to chase more fulfilling roles, climb the career ladder, or take on a role that includes travel or duties that are more challenging.
  • I have also come across those who choose a long commute in order to satisfy their desire for a good salary. I have seen a Brit fly daily to Amsterdam and I have come across someone who commutes daily to London from his native Poland.

These are all personal choices… I deserve this job… I deserve this lifestyle… I need more gadgets…We need a bigger TV…  I have a right to live where I want to… I shouldn’t have to downsize if I don’t want to…

In my view, it’s not that common anymore to come across individuals who say they have been forced or blackmailed into jobs that involve long commutes. And those that do, often vote with their feet. Staying with one employer for life is gone. Employees have more freedom to move than ever before, so most of the time employers simply cannot force employees to do what they don’t want to do – including long commutes.

But if reducing commute times is important to you, here are a few practical things that I think can be done:

  • Improve Wi-Fi provision in rural areas – Wi-Fi shouldn’t just be for city dwellers!
  • Get cars off the road by providing better public transport in rural areas – it’s hard to believe that in so many rural areas the bus service stops at 6pm, or only goes once an hour!
  • Perhaps we ought to have compulsory education in health and wellbeing for all those who are electing to have a commute of over 90 minutes a day?
  • If you want to change things, as always, start at the top with the leaders. Ban long commutes for politicians, council leaders, public sector leaders and definitely all those who travel each day to Brussels. They really are setting the wrong example.

Or… let’s stop talking about long commutes and viewing them as something negative. Instead, we can talk about:

  • How many miles can be covered in short periods due to high-speed trains and low-cost flights.
  • What fantastic sound systems so many have in their vehicles or phones making travelling so much more pleasurable that in previous decades.
  • What great opportunities there are to catch up on missed TV when commuting by train.
  • How a long commute ensures that those parents who wish to do so can avoid the chaos and noise of bath and bedtime!
  • How on earth we would be able to practise our sophisticated skills of ignoring our fellow human beings if we didn’t have long commutes. It’s amazing how you can pretend you have seen no one and been seen by no one despite spending 60 minutes on a crowded train or bus, with at least one person’s nose just inches from your own nose and another person standing on your toe!

Finally, I wonder how long commute times were when people had to walk to work? Was an hour each way really that unusual for many? I would be interested to know.

Thoughts, ideas, opinions, all welcomed of course.

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