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Survey Finds 20% of American Workers in Major Cities Quitting Over Unbearable Commutes

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More than one in five workers in major American metropolitan areas have quit their jobs in recent years because of unbearable commutes, according to a new survey from the Robert Half staffing company.

Research by the Menlo Park, California, firm shows that cities such as Denver and Miami are feeling growing pains as commutes to work become more challenging. Denver was among four cities with the largest numbers of professionals who say their commutes have deteriorated since 2013, while Miami had one of the highest levels of employee resignations due to dissatisfaction with the commute, the analysis found.

“Commutes can have a major impact on morale and, ultimately, an employee’s decision to stay with or leave a job,” said Paul McDonald, Robert Half’s senior executive director, in a prepared statement. “In today’s candidate-driven market, skilled workers can have multiple offers on the table. Professionals may not need to put up with a lengthy or stressful trip to the office if there are better options available.”

Miami’s roads and highways continue to become more congested as the city’s population swells, according to Ashley Orfin, the metro market manager for Robert Half in Miami.

“There are new corporate centers cropping up, and as a result, more traffic bottlenecks can be found throughout the city on a constant basis,” Orfin told Watchdog.org. “Miami rush hours can range from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., so employers haven’t staggered schedules because of this, which can make commutes longer and more stressful.”

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A stressful commute can be quantified in different ways, she said, and ultimately it’s up to the employee to decide whether the burden is acceptable or not.

“Distance itself and the money spent on gas or public transit can add up, or a short distance plagued with terrible traffic conditions can cost time,” Orfin said.

But there are things that companies can do to help employees cope with travel issues, including surveying workers to determine if bad commutes are hurting productivity, she said. Possible solutions include staggered work schedules so that employees can avoid driving during rush hours, allowing workers to telecommute occasionally, subsidizing the cost of public transit for employees or providing company-sponsored carpooling.

Men and younger workers are the most likely to give notice due to a dissatisfaction with their commutes, according to the survey, which covered 2,800 employees nationwide who are 18 or older.

But the research also contained some more positive findings, including responses that showed a large number of workers think their commutes have actually improved.

“Thirty-nine percent of professionals felt their commute has gotten better over the past five years,” Orfin said. “This could be due to an increase in utilizing public transit or other initiatives such as flexible or staggered schedules.”

But Karen Policastro, senior regional manager for Robert Half in Denver, indicated that workers in the Mile-High City have been feeling the strain of being in one of the fastest-growing regions of the nation.

“The population has grown exponentially over the past few years, and commute times have gotten noticeably worse as a result,” Policastro told Watchdog.org. “Moreover, Denver’s infrastructure wasn’t built to accommodate this type of growth, and there is limited space to add roads.”

The nonprofit downtown Denver Partnership reports that commute options for workers there have increased due to expansions of light rail and bike lanes. Indeed, bike commuting in downtown Denver shot up 25 percent between 2016 and 2017.

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Robert Puentes, president of the Washington-based Eno Center for Transportation, said the Robert Half finding that 23 percent of employees surveyed had bailed on their jobs due to bad commutes seemed high, but there’s no dispute about some of the downsides of long, stressful commutes to work.

“We do know that there are big impacts of long commutes on the American workforce,” Puentes told Watchdog.org, adding that these include mental health issues, higher divorce rates and high blood pressure.

But the quality of the commute may be just as relevant as the time spent, he said. Research shows workers who are able to walk to work are highly satisfied, and employees who have the option of a pleasant light-rail ride tend to be happier than those who are constantly in bumper-to-bumper traffic, according to Puentes.

Efforts in regions such as Denver and Miami to expand their commuter rail systems have helped, he said, but nevertheless ridership declines on public transit around the nation have become a reality in recent years, according to Puentes.

“The national narrative is more of a decline,” he said, adding that this might be due to workers having more mobility options, such as Uber and other app-based taxi services, as well as new bike lanes.

And the nation’s emergence from the Great Recession may also have taken a toll on employee commutes, Puentes said.

“As the economy recovers, people have bought more cars,” he said, and owners are putting them to use during rush hour.

Researchers have also found that employers may now have a tendency to display what’s known as commuter bias during the hiring process, according to Puentes.

“If you live far from the job, there’s a bias against you being able to get the job,” he said.

Puentes’ advice to workers is to figure in the cost of commuting to work when purchasing a home in a community. Combining those costs allows them to get a clearer picture of what the daily grind will involve, he said.

A version of this piece originally appeared on WatchDog.org.

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