Insurance 30 May 2017

What employers can do about long commutes and their impact on employee health

Commuting to work in London is a tiresome affair
Long commutes are 12 per cent more likely to cause work-related stress

Research has shown that workers who face long commutes during rush-hours are negatively impacting their health and productivity. Here, HR director at Peninsula Law, Alan Price, explains why this should be a wakeup call to employers.

Employees who travelled for less than 30 minutes to attend work gained seven days of productive time each year compared to employees who travelled for 60 minutes or more.

Commutes of an hour or more also contribute dramatically to mental health problems, research has shown. Those with longer commutes were 33 per cent more likely to suffer from depression and 12 per cent more likely to suffer a form of work-related stress. Other health problems, such as failing to get recommended amounts of sleep and obesity, were also found to be more prevalent.

This research is a stark eye opener for employers. A lack of productivity costs employers financially and has a negative impact on areas such as team work and employee engagement.

Coupled with being detrimental to health, inevitably increasing absenteeism and mental health issues, employers should explore options that are available to them to either reduce the time employers spend commuting or cancel this out completely.

Employers who allow their employees to positively use the right to request flexible working to adapt their working hours to avoid long commutes will help reduce stress and increase productivity. Actively reminding employees that they can now use this statutory right regardless of whether they have caring responsibilities will open this option to employees.

Flexible working requests can be used to adapt working hours to amend start and finish times to avoid rush hour commutes. Employers are placed under an obligation to consider requests meaningfully and can only refuse a request for one or more of eight specified business reasons.

Statutory requests are only available to employees who have 26 weeks service with their employer and can only be made once in any 12 month period. Employers can, however, consider non-statutory requests and may find themselves with a more engaged workforce if they do.  

Flexible working requests can also be used to request changing the way work is carried out and employers can request to either change to, or increase the amount of, home working. With significant advances in technology in recent years, like the use of cloud storage, video conferencing, emails and better portable equipment, employees can generally work as successfully at home as they can in the office.

Although home working removes the need for commuting in its entirety, working from home can result in a loss of productivity or motivation as the office environment is lost.

Employers who support home working should set out the company’s expectations regarding start and end times, workload and productivity and when the employee will be expected to attend the office for occasions such as client meetings or training sessions.

Whilst embracing flexibility is a possibility for most employers, for some businesses external factors such as customer demand mean that they cannot shift their workforce away from “normal” working hours.

Where this is the case, employers should focus on providing mental health initiatives to ensure workers who face daily long commutes are supported by their workplace. More employers are now recognising the importance of offering employee benefits that focus on mental health, such as employee assistance programmes, which offer confidential counselling on a wide range of issues, both personal and work-related.

Having someone to talk to and receiving employee support goes a long way towards reducing mental health concerns, preventing absenteeism for mental health illness and increasing productivity at work as employee concerns impact less on the working day.

Flexible working and the law: What micro business owners need to know

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