Ill-effects of long commuting on health & well being

Ill-effects of long commuting on health & well being
Photo by Paul Hanaoka / Unsplash

Mobility in today’s world is something which is indispensable. People all across the world, in order to earn their livelihood commute from one place to another. Sometimes the commuting time is less and sometimes it's more. Here we will try to understand that what long commuting can do to your health.

However, in India, there is not even a single comprehensive study to measure the travel behaviour of people to understand its impact on the mental health & well being of an individual.

Starting from the very obvious fact, long hours of commuting can increase your anxiety level, stress level, depression, anger, blood sugar levels and cardio problems. According to the peer-reviewed research, it has been revealed that long commute does bring surmountable work stress, job dissatisfaction, unhappiness, obesity due to lack of physical exercise, exposure to high levels of pollutants etc. (The effects of long commutes and what to do about them, 2011).

However, commuting long hours is replaced with good money offers and better facilities at the workplace, while for some travelling long becomes a necessity because of high cost involving in buying or resting a place close to their workplace. The community & well being project, UK has found that adding 20 minutes to your commute time results in lower job satisfaction and 19% pay cut.

In India, mental health which has gained momentum in the recent past with its National Policy on Mental Health in 2014, should also consider this risk factor impacting the increased rate of mental illness. According to several studies, the ill effects of long commuting on mental health results in anxiety and depression, high level of stress, lower well being of people. 2011 Census of India reports that commuting to work is one of the most regular trips daily. A presentation by Dr. Geetam Tiwari & Deepti Jain in 2017 explained that large population size of a city or an area does impact on long distance trips. We all know that people living in the metro and non-metro cities face a huge problem of traffic congestion which increase the travel time and adds more frustrations to one’s mind. On average, travel time is around 3–4 hours a day. It is no doubt that major Indian cities are ranked amongst the world’s most congested cities for e.g. Bengaluru, Delhi, Kolkata Mumbai etc. Balancing work and personal life in such a situation becomes very important.

Here we can analyze two things:

Flexible working conditions to cope with long commuting hours

Flexible working is not a new concept. Since the 1980s, the concept of flexibility of “where the work can be done from” has been there. Recent International Workplace Group’s global workspace survey, 2019 revealed that 80% of businesses have introduced flexible working to shorten the commuting hours, a move to reduce the burden of stress. flexible timings is surely a great step in avoiding long chain of traffic during peak hours. Every 2 of 5 workers reports that commuting is the worst part of their day. There are also people who in order to save their commuting time staying at those place which otherwise they completely have avoided the traffic congestion on roads and its impact on health. It is a well known fact that noise pollution, air pollution on roads adds more to mental anxiety levels of an individual. An interesting study done in 2013 by Becerra N, Wilhelm M, Cockburn M, Ritz B, studied the effects of traffic relation air pollution during pregnancy and development of autism in baby. Secondly, the public transportation system in India and the delay caused in catching those trips make its even more frustrating. Another point to add here is the problem of corporate hubs. People travelling a length to get there includes longer commute time and pain. However, introducing Gyms at workplace to reduce the stress levels generated from long commuting can serve as a solution.

Introducing flexibility in order to increase productivity at work

Flexible timings not only cut the pain of heavy commuting but it also strengthen the productivity at work which otherwise gets hampered due to painful travel. However, working without a strong data connection and noisy environment could mark as a hurdle in being productive. According to 85% of the businesses, productivity of the employees have increased due to flexible timings, a study revealed.

An interesting study “The commuting and well-being study” by University of West of England, 2017 proposes and worked on several questions that might change the entire outlook of studying commuting and its effect on health such as Commuting can be a boon if it involves physical activity, Commuting and health should be studied on the basis of mode of transport & commuting time etc., Flashy salary attracts long commutes, more unpredictable journey results in more stress, car commuters have more negative mood as compared with rail users, working from home increasing job satisfaction, walking to work reduces strain etc.

Covid-19 and flexible working hours

Global pandemic due to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought a tremendous change on how we have worked so far. Many organizations in India and abroad have opt for a “work from home” policy to avoid coming in close contact with others. As compared to 5 percent people worked from home in 2019, it is over 60 percent in 2020 in UK.

This plan although has a mixed response. It has definitely put a pressure on working parent/ parents. For example in United Kingdom there are 13 million working parents and many (one in seven workers) have to adjust greatly to balance office and personal life. Mental wellness of an individual working from home is also challenging. Family, kids, mental agony of loosing someone to COVID-19, house hold chores and most important office work is a juggle for working parents and specially for working women. Times like this have also shown us the other side of work from home. However, sticking to everyday schedule of working and maintaining a balance between work and home could be helpful.

Ill-effects of long commuting on health & well being
By Neeti Goutam, Strategic Lead, Communications, Sanrachana