San Francisco has a high percentage of mega commuters — drivers who commute 90 minutes or more. However, numerous studies show that mega commutes have adverse physical and psychological effects on workers. As an employer, you have a vested interest in your employees’ health and wellbeing.
Keep reading to learn more about how mega commutes impact productivity and workplace health.
What Is a Mega Commute?
A mega commuter drives at least 90 minutes each way to work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Surveys, the number of mega commuters has been steadily growing in the United States. This cultural change is due, in part, to rising housing costs and increasing employment rates. Mega commutes are most common in urban areas, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City.
While approximately 3% of workers are mega commuters nationally, about 5% of San Francisco’s population are mega commuters. In Stockton, 8% of the population has a mega commute — the highest percentage of mega commuters in California. Many of these commutes greatly exceed the Census Bureau’s 90-minute threshold and sometimes require multiple train and bus rides. (For an in-depth view of the life of a mega commuter, see the New York Time’s photo essay on Sheila Jones, a public health worker who commutes from Stockton to San Francisco every day.)
How Do Mega Commutes Decrease Employee Health?
Mega commutes negatively impact employee health in several ways. They contribute to our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and waste time that would be otherwise used to exercise, prepare food, and interact with friends and family. These factors contribute to both decreased physical and psychological health.
Physical Health and Mega Commutes
While active commuting (such as walking and biking) increases physical activity, most Bay Area workers passively commute by car or a mode of public transportation. Studies have shown that long commutes negatively impact our physical health in several ways, including decreased cardiorespiratory fitness, weight gain, musculoskeletal pain, higher blood sugar levels, and increased blood pressure.
Psychological Health and Mega Commutes
Mega commutes also impact your psychological health. Studies report that mega commuters have a lower perception of their personal wellness — and tend to visit their primary care physician more frequently. Additionally, mega commutes increase stress levels due the unpredictability of traffic and a commuter’s lack of control during their trip to work. During a commute, a driver’s pulse rate and blood pressure typically increases, causing feelings of anxiety and anger.
Lost Productivity and Mega Commutes
In addition to health problems associated with mega commutes, workers also lose productivity due to their commuting. Studies show that many mega commuters, especially men, choose their commute over sleep. A mega commuter spends over 30 days per year driving to-and-from work. If 3.6 million Americans have mega commutes, we are losing 1.8 billion man-hours in national productivity each year. When these employees finally do arrive at work, they’re frequently sleep-deprived, stressed, and overwhelmed.
Improving Your Employees’ Commuting Experience
In the Bay Area, mega commutes are sometimes inevitable. However, as an employer, you can help your employees avoid the negative impact of mega commutes. You might encourage:
- Telecommuting and flexible scheduling. An increasing number of workers are opting for flexible schedules and remote working arrangements. Allowing your employees to travel outside of peak traffic hours can help decrease commute times and related stress. And, remote work arrangements can eliminate or significantly reduce commute times.
- Active commuting. Even a daily walk to-and-from a train or bus stop can improve your employees’ health. You can encourage the use of active commuting and public transportation by subsidizing travel costs or offering compensation for employees that give up their parking spaces.
- Mental stimulation during commutes. Many mega commuters travel alone. The boredom and stress of a lengthy commute can cause social isolation and increase anxiety. You might encourage employees to listen to podcasts, audio books, or other stimulating media by creating an inter-office book or podcast discussion group. You can also offer help identifying carpool partners within the office.
- Encourage workplace wellness. Many mega commuters struggle to find time for healthy meal planning and exercise. Help them make better choices by offering healthy food options at your workplace and encouraging physical activity throughout the work day.
Allen, P, Barlow, C.E., Hoener, C.M., & Schootman, M. (2012, June). Commuting distance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and metabolic risk. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3360418/
Cramer, S. (2016, August). Health in a hurry: The impact of rush hour commuting on our health and wellness. (2016, August). Royal Society for Public Health Vision, Voice and Practice. Retrieved from https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/policy/commuter-health.html
Ingraham, C. (2016, February 25). The astonishing human potential wasted on commutes. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/25/how-much-of-your-life-youre-wasting-on-your-commute/?utm_term=.c512383c1b78
Sex of workers by travel time to work (2012). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_12_5YR_B08012&prodType=table