Why Your Boss Should Let You Work From Home (Hint: It's Killing You)

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Your daily commute is killing you slowly. The hour you spend commuting to and from the office each day, whether on the metro or in your own car, is contributing to your growing list of health concerns.

Even if you’re otherwise a relatively healthy person, your commute is damaging your health.

The average American spends 25.5 minutes each way commuting to work, according to a report written by researchers from the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas and published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The time we spend commuting is often complicated by environmental factors such as weather complications, gridlock, and traffic. As commuters, we start and end each day in a stressful and sometimes hostile environment. The hour (or more) that we spend commuting often leaves us feeling frustrated, agitated, anxious and angry. These feelings are not only setting us up for a challenging work day, but they’re also having a deeper and lasting impact on our overall well-being.

Straight up, this daily commute is making us sick.

Anxiety and Stress

A report from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics finds that people who commute more than half an hour, each way, to work have higher levels of stress and anxiety than people with shorter commutes or no commutes at all.

Key findings from the report site that, holding all else equal, commuters have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety on average than non-commuters.

According to David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, the “aggressive, combative, competitive frame for driving” could have negatively implications for cardiovascular disease.

To make his point, Strayer and his colleagues ran a simulation experiment. They asked people to drive under the assumption that they were late to a meeting. They offered a financial incentive to those people who arrived before the others. They split the group into two; one drove in high-density traffic, the other had a less stressful traffic environment.

Although the results showed that men more than women got into an aggressive driving mode, both men and women who adopted an aggressive driving persona showed an elevated blood pressure when under pressure to weave their way through heavy traffic.

We know that long-term stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, and while research on the exact level of cardiovascular risk associated with commuting is limited, recent data doesn’t offer a bright picture for commuters.

Blood Pressure

A 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the farther people commute by vehicle, the higher their blood pressure and body mass index is likely to be. Also, the farther the commute, the less physically active the person was.

The study demonstrates that people who live more than 10 miles from their work are more likely to have high blood pressure than people with shorter commutes. People who commute more than 15 miles each way are much more likely to be obese. Even long commuters who do exercise were more likely to have high blood pressure than people with shorter commutes who get the same amount of exercise.

Body Pain

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I bet most people agree; their daily commute is a pain in their back. It’s time we take this complaint literally.

If the average American’s commute to work is 25.5 minutes each way, that results in approximately 204 hours a year spent in the car traveling to and from work. Tack on the hours we spend sitting at our desks, sleeping in our beds, sitting on the bus, in the waiting room, watching TV, and sitting down to eat our meals. We sit more than we don’t.

All this sitting negatively impacts our posture, resulting in increased pain and aches in the back, shoulders, and neck.

Diabetes and High Cholesterol

According to Christine Hoehner, the lead author of the study, this is the first study to show that long commutes actually defer people from regular daily exercise and lead to conditions that are strong predictors of diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. The report also found that driving more than 10 miles each way during your commute is associated with higher blood sugar. High blood glucose levels can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes.

The same report found that the 10-mile commute, each way, increases levels of cholesterol in commuters.

Imagine waking up in the morning and spending that 25 minutes walking your kids to school or to the bus stop, getting in 25 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, or even meditating in a quiet place, instead of commuting. How much more healthy, peaceful, and productive would we be?

David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Basecamp and the co-author of REMOTE: Office Not Required paints a bleak picture for commuters:

“Commuting is a recipe for misery, associated with an increased risk for obesity, insomnia, stress, neck and back pain, high blood pressure and other stress-related ills like heart attacks and depression, and even divorce.”

This doesn’t have to be your story.

More employers need to create flexible work environments where their workforce is encouraged and supported to work from home.

Think about your own time spent in the office. Do you spend most of your day working independently? How much time is spent in meetings? Are you productive most days?

Kevin Kruse, NY Times bestselling author welcomes all of his new employees with this opening line:

You can do your job wherever and whenever you want…you can even sit in a beach chair with a cocktail in hand for all I care…as long as you get our desired results.

According to Kruse, allowing his employees to work from home has enabled him to acquire top talent with no local geographic boundaries, top talent from competitors without having to increase salary, and has contributed to a highly engaged workforce with a positive company culture.

A survey summarized in the Microsoft whitepaper, Work without Walls, outlines from the employee viewpoint the top 10 benefits of working from home:

  • Work/home balance (60%)
  • Save gas (55%)
  • Avoid traffic (47%)
  • More productive (45%)
  • Less distractions (44%)
  • Eliminate long commute (44%)
  • Quieter atmosphere (43%)
  • Less stressful environment (38%)
  • More time with family (29%)
  • Environmentally friendly (23%)

Working from home improves the health and wellbeing of employees, results in less sick time and a more motivated workforce.

Most of the work that we do does not have to be done in the office. Many of the meetings we take can occur by phone or video chat.

With the technology that we have available today, there is no rhyme or reason for employees to be required to spend each day inside the four walls of your office.

If it makes sense to the type of work that your employees do, then I encourage you to establish a process whereby your employees are encouraged and supported to work from home. Put the technology in place to enable open communication, goals and metrics to measure productivity and output, and then simply trust that you’ve hired employees that will do their job well, regardless of where they are doing it.

Do you have the flexibility to work offsite? What do you consider to be the biggest benefit of working from home?

Photo credit: Feature Image – Steven Depolo PAIN Knuckle Tattoo 11-23-09 — IMG_9893. David Morris Black and White Hurdles

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