The cost of a long commute for your workers

Tom Quinn |
Tom (he/him) is a growth marketing manager at Snagajob helping small businesses find hourly workers.

The average commute in the United States has increased from 22 minutes in 1980 to 25 minutes today, though plenty of workers in major cities commute for 40 minutes or longer. 

Workers may be taking longer commutes than they did 40 years ago, but that doesn't mean they're always happy with it. The longer an employee commutes to work, the more likely they will grow disillusioned with the job and potentially quit. 

Based on various studies, the consensus seems that around 30 minutes is the average acceptable commute time. But of course, this is relative. As metropolitan areas grow and residential districts expand further and further from commercial centers, the average commute is getting longer. 

So how can you help make a bad commute better and ensure you keep great employees coming back? 

Pay expectation

Often workers will only consider commuting long distances if the pay is worthwhile. It's no surprise, really: the average worker pays $1483 per year in 'commuting gas,' so their salary has to cover that extra cost at least.


Another thing to consider is whether you are obliged to pay commuting time. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) dictates that employers should pay for travel substantially longer than the ordinary commute, impacting businesses that send staff to multiple locations.

Employee burnout

If workers spend long hours commuting to and from their jobs, especially if they start early or finish late, they're usually heading towards burnout. A burned-out employee is more likely to call in sick, be ineffective on the job, and eventually quit.

Quitting & no shows

If a commute is exceptionally long, staff may quickly give up on the job entirely. An airline catering company studied staff turnover – which sat at nearly 50% – and found that commute time was the consistent factor behind their low job retention. On top of that, workers living far from their jobs are more likely to not show up for shifts, a problem that can quickly become expensive for business owners.

Transport issues

Time itself is not the only consideration in what determines an acceptable commute. How an employee commutes to work also impacts the commuting experience. A 30 minute trip by car is different from a 30 minute trip by bus, both in terms of comfort and cost. Keep this in mind when hiring from rural locations where public transport might be less available, regular, and reliable.


What can the business do?

If you are looking to hire employees who live far from your business, you can do a few things to make the commute easier.

Pay staff more

Staff with longer commutes will expect higher wages to commute longer distances. Bear this in mind if your business is far from residential areas.

Offer commuter benefits

For workers with cars, offer free parking permits. For those who use public transport, offer season ticket loans against forthcoming wages. Show that you care about their commute and provide ways to make it easier.

Creative transport solutions

If you know that your business is hard to get to, organize a shuttle service to bring staff onsite. Incentivize employees to carpool to make travel easier and create bonds between workers. 

There are many ways you can show your employees that you understand that commuting impacts their lives. Taking that extra step can do a lot in an employee's eyes and help keep great workers coming back.