The shift to remote work during the pandemic saved U.S. employees more than 60 million hours of commute time.
Such a radical and sudden shift in routine is bound to reveal things that may have gone unnoticed. For example, the effect that commuting to work has on employee mental health—both positive and negative—is perhaps clearer now than ever before.
With Earth Day right around the corner, now is not only a great time to reflect on what we're all doing to foster sustainability inside and outside of work. It's also the perfect time to compare how certain modes of commuting impact both the environment and employee well-being.
Commuting’s Impact on the Environment
Commuting contributes heavily to air, water, and noise pollution in largely populated areas of the world. The transportation sector—the single largest manufacturer of cars, light- and heavy-duty trucks, and vans—is responsible for producing 27% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions in the United States alone, according to the EPA.
Such reliance on gas-powered transportation perpetuates the Greenhouse Effect, which traps heat from the sun in our atmosphere and contributes to climate change.
With this in mind, finding eco-conscious ways to commute to work starts with choosing the best, most environmentally friendly modes of transportation. For hybrid organizations, presenting in-office employees with more eco-friendly transportation methods can have a range of benefits, including promoting better physical and mental well-being.
Additionally, by reducing the number of cars on the road, organizations can help to reduce traffic congestion, making commutes for in-office employees quicker and more enjoyable.
How Commuting to Work Affects Employee Mental Health
Although most jobs require the onsite presence of employees, commuting in any form has substantial effects on employee well-being and mental health.
A survey conducted in 2021 revealed what employees are sacrificing to get to the office on time. Commuters revealed that in order to make their commutes, they’re giving up:
- Sufficient sleep
- Time with families and partners
- Physical exercise
- Productive work time
Individuals who don't get enough sleep or exercise are susceptible to an array of physical and mental health issues, including weakened immune systems. As a result, employees have greater difficulty focusing and staying motivated at work, creating a ripple effect on organizational culture, retention, productivity, and more.
Eco-Friendly Commutes That Foster Employee Well-Being
As employers find ways to support employees who work from home and commute to the office, the key to solving the commuting conundrum lies solely in flexibility and work-life balance.
Personal schedules and responsibilities are more unpredictable than rush hour traffic, and in our increasingly hybrid world, employers who give employees autonomy over their own work and home lives see greater dividends in the long run.
Allowing employees to choose how and when to commute to work not only fosters work-life balance—it also enables them to assume ownership of their well-being. These alternative ideas for commuting serve as a great starting point to help employees prioritize their well-being while also preserving the environment.
Buses, trains, and ridesharing services have long been popular and cost-effective forms of transportation, especially for busy professionals. Known for its convenience and sustainability, public transportation also serves as an invaluable gateway to boosting mental and emotional well-being.
Commuting on buses or trains allows individuals to enter a “liminal space” free from ties to home and work responsibilities, making it a perfect arena for practicing mindfulness.
In a recent study, the World Economic Forum found that liminal spaces create ripe opportunities for healthy psychological detachment and recovery, giving employees ample time and space to decompress and mentally transition between home and work roles.
Walking and/or Jogging
Walking to work, even just part-way, is a low-intensity form of exercise that brings significant well-being benefits.
The simple act of walking increases oxygen flow throughout the body and stimulates hormones that elevate energy levels. Employees who walk for even a few minutes before work are more likely to enjoy enhanced concentration, memory, stamina, and motivation throughout the work day.
Employees who live close to the office have an advantage here, but even those who live a bit further or are fully remote can still participate—especially with warmer weather fast approaching.
Biking to Work
If walking isn’t feasible, biking can be a great way for workers to get some exercise before or after work and reduce their carbon footprint.
National Bike to Work Day happens every year on the third Friday of May, and in 2023 it falls on May 19th. In response, many organizations are already encouraging employees to hop on their bikes, track miles, and share photos with colleagues to foster physical activity, emotional rejuvenation, and team building.
For employees who need to drive to work out of necessity, carpooling is an effective and practical commuting option that still helps the environment.
A cost-effective way for employees to commute to work, carpooling also helps to reduce carbon emissions while providing social benefits and camaraderie for coworkers who take the same routes to work. Rideshare apps like Uber offer several carpooling options that reduce stress and subsequent side effects that come with navigating traffic.
Additionally, carpooling also introduces employees to the novel idea of taking different routes to work. Studies have articulated the advantages of doing something different and new from a typical routine like commuting to work, which include preventing burnout, alleviating stress, and allowing for increased enjoyment of life.
Fostering Employee Mental Health and Sustainability with Flexible Commutes to Work
Alternative methods of transportation to work help foster employee well-being while being mindful of the environment and the impact that gas-powered vehicles have on our planet. With National Bike to Work Day fast approaching, now is a great time to implement and incentivize employee participation in wellness challenges—starting with their commute.
Looking for more wellness challenge ideas? We have hundreds of fresh, meaningful, and customizable activities to boost employee well-being at work and at home.