Commuting isn’t Always a Choice & Employer’s should pay for it

Offices are located mainly within cities, but, employees can’t afford to live there. Commuting isn’t always a choice. University of the West of England stated that commuting time should be counted as part of the working day, according to research.

Many employees use their commute to reply to emails before the working day. On the way home, they catch up on work they have not finished during their regular working hours or put in some extra time.

Employees no longer clock in at 9am and clock out at 5pm. Commuting has become a grey area between work and personal time.

In Tokyo 86% of employers pay their employees a commuting allowance on top of their salary. People in the UK don’t expect to get commuting allowances, so they don’t get it.  Employers in the UK have become more focused on mental health and well-being, but, the grey area still remains.

 Should employers pay for the time that we’re spending on commuting?

How much time do we Spend Commuting

TLDNR Summary: The average UK worker spends an hour or more commuting each day. Those who live in London spend up to 2.5 hours commuting.

51% of UK workers spend an hour or more each day travelling to and from work, with 1 in 10 paying £90-100 to do so.

However, it’s not just the actual time spent on the train, tram or underground that eats into our personal time. 38% of us also spend an additional 15 minutes in traffic or delays and an additional 21% of us are waiting 30-45 minutes for the transport to turn up.

Those who have to use the London underground have to suffer the worst commutes. So much so, 35% of people who get the underground spend at least an hour and fifteen on transport a day. They also have to bear an additional 46-60 minutes waiting on the platform. A typical London Commuter spends 2-2.25 hours of their personal time getting to and from work.

Commuters in Leeds spend 62 minutes commuting while Manchester spends 54 minutes. If you want to spend less time commuting, you may want to move up north.

Why Commuting isn't  

Always A Choice

TLDNR Summary: An individual who is a graduate or even a manager in Manchester cannot afford to live in the city. Once you hit the ‘head of’ level, you’ll be able to afford to live in the city but probably won’t want to.

A graduate, high end manager or head of cannot afford to live in London city centre.

Not being able to live in the city centre because of your wage and cost of living does not make commuting a choice. Therefore, employers should pay for it.

Employers may say, ‘you choose where you live’ and therefore, the cost of commuting is at your own expense. The fact is we don’t always have a choice. We do not get paid nearly enough to live in the city centre and avoid commuting costs.

The table below is interactive, you can use the filters at the top and enlarge it by hovering over and clicking the three dots.

A graduate that lives in Manchester and earns £17,000 cannot afford to pay £1,332 a month on rent. Their monthly take home after tax and national insurance is £1,245. They physically can’t live in the city and must live outside for around £777 a month. After they pay £777 on rent, they’re left with around £468 and £57 of that needs to go on their commute – leaving £411 to pay for food, bills, support their health and well being as well as having social life.

Even for a Manager in Manchester earning £25,000 it’s not enough to live in the city. A take home of £1,698 means that paying city centre rent would leave them with £360 for all other expenses.  Only once you’re at the high end of a managerial role or head of a department, does it appear to be affordable to living in the city and avoid commuting.

A graduate living in London on £22,000 (the medium) takes home £1,528 a month. Not nearly enough to afford the crippling £2,465 city rent or the £1,735 rent outside the city. So, they need to live even further out and this is where the longer commutes come in. Even if they were to find a flat for around £1,000, they would have to downsize to a small studio and live far away from the city. Paying £1,000 on rent still only leaves a graduate with £389 to live off after they spend £139 on their commute.

Even a high end manager earning £45,000 with a take home of £2,831 a month cannot afford the extortionate £2,465 city rent. Neither can a head of department earning £50,000 and a take home of £3,084. Ultimately, until you’re at the very top, you’ll have to commute.

Grad schemes can pay around £25,000-£28,000 but again, it still isn’t enough to live in the city and avoid commuting. Other industries or commission based jobs such as sales & recruitment can pay more but the salary alone doesn’t cover living costs.

How does Commuting Affect Employees Health and Well-being?

TLDNR Summary: Commuting has been shown to affects job satisfaction, employee retention, financial state, stress levels and happiness.

The financial cost and time consumption that commuting causes is alarming. But, the costs to an individual’s mental health and well-being are even more worrying.

The financial loss affects job satisfaction. A 19% reduction in income means that for someone earning £21,600, they lose £4,080 of that.

Employees with longer commute times are also more likely to change job due to it affecting their job satisfaction. This in turn has implications on employee retention.

It’s a massive chunk out of their wages and for some it can cause financial stress that affects their mental health and well-being.

On average, employees spent £1,087 of their salary on commuting costs alone. By the time a London commuter reaches retirement, they could have spent almost £200,000 on their commute – the same as a two-bedroom house on the south coast.

Employees are bitter about what they lose due to commuting. Not only does it hurt them financially, but they cannot get the time spend commuting back.

Those who commute experience lower feelings of happiness, life satisfaction and the sense that their activities are worthwhile. They also experience higher anxiety levels compared to non-commuters.

Where Should you live to get the most out of your Career? 

TLDNR Summary: You should live in Belfast if you’re a graduate, Glasgow if you’re a manager and Manchester or Liverpool if you’re a head of department.

Bristol and London are one of the highest pay cities for graduates although; their rent prices make it nearly unachievable to live. Belfast however, pays the same rate of £20,000 with city living costs of £997.

As a manager you’ll earn more in London with a £40,000 - £45,000 salary, but, that still won’t be enough to live in the city. A manager in Glasgow will earn between £33,000-£45,000 and pay around £1,000 in rent – only half of your monthly salary even if you’re on the low end of the scale.

As a head of department, Bristol, London and Coventry are the highest paying in salary; but living costs are still extremely high. Living in Liverpool and Manchester will see you earning £45,000-£55,000 and paying around £1,330. That means if you’re earning £45,000 you’ll take home £2,830 home a month – nearly half your earnings will be left. You’ll also benefit from a shorter commute. 

How do we Combat the Commuting Crisis?

TLDNR Summary: We can combat the commuting crisis by letting employee’s work from home sometimes, introducing flexi hours or employers offering a commuting allowance.

There are three main ways we can work towards improving the commuting crisis.

Allowing employees even two days a week to work from home will nearly cut their time commuting in half. Employees want flexible working arrangements that allow them to have more control over their work-life balance. That included cutting down their commuting time.

Alternatively, if working from home cannot be done, introducing flexi hours so that employees can choose to avoid rush hour is at least a step forward.

If employers really insist that you come to the office five days a week, they should pay an allowance for commuting costs. There would have to be restrictions and assessments to avoid misuse but it can be done.

Employers need to prove that they care about employee’s well-being and do their best to minimise stress. In 2018, more than 1 in 3 UK employees consider quitting their job regularly. Employee retention in the UK is at a critical point.

Not only will more focus on a work life balance help improve their well-being; it also gives a business a competitive advantage. As Michael Porter’s famous competitive strategies revealed, possessing a competitive advantage will determine whether firm's profitability is above or below the industry average.