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Commuting: more trouble than it’s worth

From “commute discrimination” to “commuter bias” it seems travelling to work isn’t much fun for anyone. HRM rounds up the most recent research.

For many of us, commuting by car or public transport to work everyday is inevitable – except for me, I (occasionally) walk. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, reports that the average commute time for Australians is 29 minutes, however around two million (one quarter of employees) travel 45 minutes or more on a one way trip to the workplace.

A recent Deloitte report says that when it comes to landing a job in the CBD, workers will put up with an even longer commute, with the average journey for central-based jobs sitting at just over one hour in length.

No job for you!

But it seems employers have different standards. According to a study by the University of Notre Dame, which was published in The Journal of Human Resources, US employers are 14 per cent less likely to respond to the applications of candidates that live far away from the workplace. The likelihood of receiving a call also decreases the further away from the employer base by 1.1 per cent per mile (1.6 kilometres).

Of this “commute discrimination”, economist David C. Phillips found that, “the positive response rates for folks who were listed as living in nearby, affluent neighbourhoods were significantly higher than for folks who live in poorer neighbourhoods, farther from jobs.”

Interestingly, those who live in less desirable neighbourhoods were faced with similar levels of prejudice to those with typically African American names.

Commuting sucks

Apparently it’s not just employers who aren’t in favour of long employee commutes – workers hate them too. A UK report says that adding an extra 20 minutes to the commute has the same impact on job satisfaction as a 19 per cent pay cut.

The report’s Principal researcher Dr. Kiron Chatterjee from the University of the West of England (UWE), concludes that commuting can be even more stressful than work itself. But apparently, many of us don’t realise the negative impact of a long commute before it’s too late.

In a 2017 Harvard Business Review (HBR) report, participants were asked to choose between two fictional job prospects – the first position with salary of $67,000 and a 50 minute commute. The second with a $64,000 salary and a 20 minute commute. Even when the researchers explained that the larger salary amounted to just $3000 per year for 250 hours more commuting time (which breaks down further to $12 per hour, 50 per cent less than the hourly rate), 84 per cent elected for option one.

Compare this to the UWE study, as well as others, that are based on the point in time when employees have already taken a job and actually have to make the commute. This suggests significant levels of “commuter bias”. According to the HBR report’s authors, the participants “Responses simply reflected an inability to fully appreciate the psychological, emotional, and physical costs of longer travel times.”

When you factor in the cost of petrol or public transport fare, it seems like madness. But there is also another price that commuters can pay for making long trips – their marriage. The HBR report cites a 2011 Swedish study that found the divorce rate is 40 per cent higher amongst couples when one person commutes 45 minutes or more to work each day.

Commuting hate extends to spouses too, it seems.

Cycle in

Would your partner dislike your commute as much if you got fit in the process? Despite the growing risk to cyclists on our roads, with an increased death rate from 45-80 per cent within a 12-month period, the benefits apparently more than make up for it.

In a recent article in The Conversation, it was reported that while the risk has increased, the likelihood of a cyclist death in the western world is a one in one million chance per 47 kilometre journey. This figure was calculated by Risk Navigator, so take it how you wish.

But back to the benefits, a UK study of over 250,000 workers found that cycling to work actually slices your chances of dying, from whatever cause, in half.

The roads may be risky, but a sedentary lifestyle is more so. And an added bonus is getting to take some of that commuter frustration out on the pedals.

On yer bike!

Learn about the employment life cycle – from recruitment through to retirement – including current legislation and labour conventions that underpins practice with the AHRI short course ‘Recruitment and workplace relations.

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Hi HRM, 29 minutes to work would be amazing but I don’t think its very accurate On average my colleagues travel 1 hour or more each way every day Myself I travel a minimum of 90 minutes on a good day each way but generally it is closer to 2 hrs. I live 42 km from my office Public transport is no better I do agree the travel is stressful not only spouses, but children, careers and individuals as many an event, appointment or time with loved ones is missed


I’m not sure that suggesting people “cycle instead” solves the problem of living far away from work – a 45 minute drive is going to take an awful lot longer to cycle… What we need is decentralised business districts, satellite offices and more remote-working opportunities.


Time spent on public transport is not necessarily wasted. Eating, reading, and listening to podcasts are good options. They need some preperation in advance though, for example, one must take reading material with them.
Frequent delays and repetitive service cancellations contribute to the effort of commuting. Looking at you VLine!

Wahida Rahman
Wahida Rahman

I had to commute for over 3 hours everyday in my last job. That was the reason I left though I loved my work and the team.

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