A major study of Australian workers has found that those who commute short distances, walk or ride bikes to work are more likely to be happy, and therefore more productive.
On the other hand, those who commute longer distances tend to have more days off work.
In a study of more than 1000 full-time workers in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, Liang Ma and Runing Ye from RMIT and Melbourne Universities found that the distance people commute, and how they get there — car, public transport, cycling or walking — can influence their well-being and performance at work.
The researchers reported that the average commuting distance for Australian capital cities is about 15km, and workers with a commuting distance of 1km have 36% fewer absent days than those commuting 15km. Workers who commute 50km have 22% more absent days.
The study also finds that middle-aged (35-54) commuters who walk or cycle have better self-reported work performance than public transport and car commuters. This result may reflect the health and cognitive benefits of active travel.
Researchers also found that short-distance and active travel commuters reported they were relaxed, calm, enthusiastic, and satisfied with their commuting trips, and were more productive.
Liang Ma said that long commutes not only cause physical and mental strains on workers, but may also affect their work participation, engagement and productivity.
"Australiaʼs pervasive urban sprawl means most workers commute by car. But driving has been found to be the most stressful way to commute.
"Driving to work is associated with a series of health problems and lower social capital (smaller social networks with less social participation), which all affect work performance and productivity.
"Commuting can also affect work productivity through poorer physical and mental health. Low physical activity can lead to obesity as well as related chronic diseases, significantly reducing workforce participation and increasing absenteeism. The mental stress associated with commuting can further affect work performance.
"A growing number of studies have found active commuting by walking and cycling is perceived to be more 'relaxing and exciting'. By contrast, commuting by car and public transport is more 'stressful and boring'.
"These positive or negative emotions during the commute influence moods and emotions during the workday, affecting work performance.
"Finally, commuting choice could influence work productivity through cognitive ability. Physical activity improves brain function and cognition, which are closely related to performance.
"So itʼs possible that active travel commuters might have better cognitive ability at work, at least in the several hours after the intense physical activity of cycling or walking to work," Ma said.
"Employers should consider types of commuting as part of their overall strategies for improving job performance. They should aim to promote active commuting and, if possible, to shorten commuting time. For example, providing safe bike parking and showers at work could significantly increase cycling to work.
"As for governments, in most states of Australia, only a tiny portion (less than 2%) of transport funding is devoted to bicycling infrastructure.
"By contrast, in the Netherlands most municipalities have specific budget allocations to implement cycling policies. Australia should allocate more transport infrastructure funding to active travel, given the economic benefits of walking and cycling to work," she said.
The study is published in the Journal of Transport Geography.
The active commuting benefits referenced in this study come as a timely reminder, with Bicycle Network's National Ride2Work Day approaching on Wednesday 16 October.
To get involved and find out more about how you can unlock the health and productivity benefits of riding to work, visit the Ride2Work website below.LEARN MORE ABOUT Ride2work