Study: Long Commutes Are Just As Stressful As Low Pay

April 15, 2014

Decades ago, cruise ship company Cunard began advertising with a now-famous tag line: "Getting there is half the fun". It was catchy, but also grimly ironic, since Cunard was part of the same corporate cluster that ran the Titanic and the Lusitania.

Few would claim that getting "there" is fun anymore -- least of all commuters. In fact, a recent study conducted by Everest College shows that long commutes cause workers more stress than anything else, apart from low pay. 

To gather its data, Everest polled 1,004 employed U.S. adults age 18 and older in February and March of this year. The school released the results of its annual study to coincide with April's Stress Awareness Month.

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Daily travel and dinky paychecks tied as the top stressor for employees, with each being ranked as the most stressful job element by 13 percent of respondents. Other top stressors included unreasonable workloads (12 percent), annoying coworkers (10 percent), poor work-life balance (8 percent), working in a job outside of one's chosen career (6 percent), lack of opportunity for advancement (5 percent), the boss (5 percent), and fear of being fired/laid off (4 percent).

(Fun fact: annoying co-workers was cited as the #1 problem by 15 percent of workers in the Midwest, compared to just 8 percent in the West and 7 percent in the South. Mull that one over a bit.)

Survey organizers weren't surprised to see low pay at the top of the list -- it's occupied the #1 rung for the past four years -- but the stress of commuting has increased over time. In 2011, just nine percent of survey participants ranked their commute as the most stressful element of their job, and in 2012, it jumped to 11 percent. In other words, the problem of commuting appears to be getting worse, even as auto travel in the U.S. is declining

According to Everest's Wendy Cullen, "When it comes to stress at the workplace, low pay and a long commute is a double whammy for American workers, especially for those who are experiencing both at the same time. I don't think you can ever eliminate all the factors that cause workplace anxiety, but as individuals we can definitely create a plan of action to improve our careers and change our lives."

The slim, silver lining in this year's study is that, on the whole, stress is on a slight decline. In 2012, 83 percent of Everest's respondents said that they were stressed by at least one thing in the workplace. In 2013, that number dropped to 80 percent. (The figure was even lower in the West -- 75 percent -- but higher in the Northeast, at 86 percent.)

In fact, 18 percent of respondents said that nothing about their job causes them stress. Perhaps not surprisingly, older workers were more likely to say that, with 50 percent of employees 65 and older claiming a stress-free work environment.  

Do Everest's findings match your own experience? Is your commute a major headache? Is it getting worse? Sound off in the comments below.


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