We’ve all been there, that rush of unwanted adrenaline amidst painfully slow movements toward our dreaded destination: the office. As the minutes tick away, horns blare and sullen faces flick across their screens while faint whiffs of BO or cheap cologne waft through train cars. Even before the day has begun, it has been poisoned with the quiet resentment and shock of the morning trip to work.

Commutes really can destroy productivity, and there’s research to prove it. A recent study by VitalityHealth, RAND Europe, Mercer, and the University of Cambridge found that workers with less than a half-hour commute gained an extra 7 day’s worth of productivity during the year. Those with longer commutes, by contrast, are 12% more likely to suffer from work-related stress and 33% more likely to suffer from depression.

But digging beyond the statistics, there are 3 big underlying commute killers of morning productivity at the core of the problem lessening office morale and work-life balance.

Imbalanced stress levels

The anxiety and fear of being late to work never leave the commuting period. Small delays like missing the train or bus, or worse yet a traffic jam, increase these emotions and can lead to the prolonged aggravation that does not disappear when the desks are reached. With so many less-than-happy people jostling to make it to work, it’s all the more likely that their negative attitudes will rub off on one another. Office mornings can become sour if even one employee cannot let go of a negative experience on the commute or the adrenaline levels the rush to work has raised, leading to a bad mood epidemic that lowers enthusiasm for tasks at hand.

Rushed start to the day

Long commutes also cut into one of the most vital parts of the day for health, the hour after waking up. This is a time when the body needs to be nourished with a healthy breakfast and adjust to activity. It’s a time for peace and relaxation, not anxiety. Instead, eyeing the clock, most of us stuff an unhealthy snack into our mouths and set off high on caffeine to make it through the drudge to work. Many spend far more time on their body’s appearance than its actual health through stretching or mild exercise. Furthermore, to add time to morning routines many neglect sleep, which decreases immunity and lowers health.

Lack of focus and Leaving Early Syndrome

Some commuters can subconsciously (or consciously) succumb to the belief that they deserve a slow start to office hours after a difficult trudge to begin them. Facebook and Twitter tabs can quickly appear on their screens as their productivity never gains the boost the coffee machine trip was meant to give. Equally horrifying to most of us is the trip home, that promises to be just as congested and crushing as the trip from there. Having arrived to work in a huff and facing the full workday schedule, those exhausted from morning commutes can instantly eye the tick on the clock that marks clock out time and thinks of nothing else throughout the entire day.

What can be done to defeat the ills of commuting?

Most large cities with expensive real estate suffer greatly from commute strain because of rent pressures keeping them from considering this vital factor in their employee well-being. London, for example, is a case in point because of the city’s acute lack of affordable housing. Finding an office in London requires a detailed analysis of the city’s public transport network so many of its workers rely on to ensure they have an easy flow into the office.

Another tactic increasingly being employed against the devilish commute productivity killer is the adoption of flexible working hours that allow employees to adjust their own schedule to arrive earlier or later than standard hours. Not only does this give them less stress on the way to work, it also gives them a greater sense of control of their time and prompts many to work more efficiently.

For those who cannot relocate offices due to financial or other pressures, it’s important to recognize the negative effects commutes can have on employees and try to counter-act them with a warm morning environment. Set a pattern of friendly activity and morning greetings for people to know a pleasant destination as at the end of the road to work. Provide nice incentives like breakfasts or better quality coffee and tea options to stand out from the other work environment employees have known.


  • Hira Saeed

    An Independent Tech Journalist

    An independent Tech Journalist based in the Bay Area with a byline on almost all leading tech publications. Some of them include VentureBeat, TheNextWeb, Entrepreneur.com and TechStars. I also cover news and startups for some local publications. When I am not writing, I am building a community of geeks.