The Long Commute: How Long Is Too Long and Why

Caroline Beaton

Your work commute matters. Large-scale studies indicate that one’s satisfaction with commuting to work contributes to overall happiness. And, in general, long commute times are associated with lower subjective well-being.

But it turns out that length of commute is hardly the most important facet of commute satisfaction.

In fact, occasionally workers wish their commutes were longer. In one sample, while 52 percent commuted longer than they’d like, a solid 7 percent wished their commute were lengthier. Among commuters who pined for shorter transit times, only a few wanted to eliminate their commute altogether.

So how long is too long to get to work? The answer, research suggests, depends on factors besides length.  

Age does matter

For one, people’s satisfaction with their commutes depends on their age. The younger you are, the more likely you are to despise your commute. This could be a generational thing, or it could be a transition thing. Young workers used to walking to class may have a hard time adjusting to a long, chaotic real world commute.

Commute satisfaction also depends on how you’re commuting. Urban workers traveling by bus or train tend to have longer commutes than car commuters, but enjoy their commutes more. And while just one in six workers enjoy their car commute, more than half of commuters who walk or bike to work enjoy it. They may like the physical exercise, as well as the peaceful, active buffer between work and home.

How long is too long for walkers and bikers?

Evidence from school commuters suggests that 2.5 miles is usually the max distance walkers and cyclists are willing to cover each day. In fact, one kununu reviewer who worked at State Farm didn’t even see his quick commute as a true commute: “It was only 2 miles from my apartment; so no commute,” he wrote.

How satisfied people are with their commutes also depends on ease of the commute, not just length. “Easy commute from train” one CDW employee wrote, with no complaints. By contrast, employees at Learn Charter School and Rosina Food Products wrote that their offices weren’t on main transportation fairways, which made commuting difficult and frustrating.

Satisfaction with your commute even depends on how it compares to that of your friends and coworkers. When we perceive our commutes as better than others’, we’re more likely to be satisfied.

Flexibility 

Finally, perhaps the most important component of commute satisfaction is employer flexibility. Commuters granted “flextime” by their employers— that is, flexibility on when they have to arrive at work and when they can leave—are significantly more satisfied with their commutes than employees given no such leeway. They also report less stress and time urgency during their commutes. For many people, one study sums, the key to happiness is “being able to make the routines of everyday life work.” Indeed, the degree to which one can mesh all of life’s daily obligations and minimize conflicting hassles has a huge effect on life satisfaction. kununu reviews support this data.

 

What the data says  

Several employees who wrote anonymously on kununu noted that lengthy commutes led to “no work-life balance.” A Tesla Motors employee explained, “I have no life. I commute a far distance and I have been unable to switch my working hours because my manager wont let me.” Several other employees noted that their companies required that they get to work on time despite inclement weather. At Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, an employee was prohibited from changing her work hours by just 20 minutes so she could ride the city bus to work.

Conversely, a Merck & Co. employee who would otherwise have an hour and a half morning commute wrote, “I like the fact that I can work from home most of the time and my manager personally is very understanding of this fact … [M]y manager requires me to show up at work only once or twice weekly which is very good for me.”

Flexible schedules accommodate unpredictable commutes. One employee who worked at Digisonics in Houston and had no commuting or telecommuting flexibility wrote, “My commute could take anywhere from 25 minutes to three hours, and it was hard to tell which it’d be. So it was pretty hard for me to work there for that reason — and that reason only.”  

 

In short, your satisfaction with your commute depends on a lot of things. And it’s important to remember that even long commutes aren’t automatically bad.  “Commuting is popularly viewed as a stressful, costly, time-wasting experience,” one study summed. But, according to some research, more than half of workers are relatively satisfied with their commutes, and over a third of workers actually enjoy their commutes. Others may not enjoy it, but they see its benefits, like mobility and a transition between work and life.

If your commute is awful, consider whether it’s nonetheless outweighed by other perks. An employee at TGSV wrote, “The only thing that bothered me was the commute but everything else compensated [for] the long drive.”

 

As one regretful employee explained, Honda was “the best place I have ever worked and I would go back in a heartbeat. I left due to a long commute. But I have found that it is a small price to pay for all of the other benefits.”

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Caroline Beaton (@cs_beaton) is kununu’s millennial career expert. She’s an award-winning writer and entrepreneur who helps ambitious millennials change their habits and behaviors to lead more fulfilling lives. Her writing has been has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider and many others.