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Workers’ commuting patterns contributing to likelihood of burnout: study

shutterstock_145424962.jpgCommuting length, distance and means are stress factors that can lead to burnout, according to a new study from the University of Montreal.


June 9, 2015
By Massage Therapy Canada staff

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“A correlation exists between commuting stress factors and the
likelihood of suffering from burnout. But their importance varies
according to the individual, the conditions in which their trips take
place, and the place where the individual works,” Annie Barreck of the University of Montreal’s School of Industrial Relations explained. Barreck
presented her research at last month’s 83rd congress of the Association
francophone pour le savoir.

Barreck’s work compares rural and
urban regions of Quebec in terms of their commuting patterns, including
types of transport used (car, subway, bus, bike, etc.) and links these
patterns to the three dimensions of burnout: emotional burnout, cynicism
and professional efficacy. The study involved 1,942 people, aged
between 17 and 69, working at 63 organizations in Quebec. Data was
collected through Canada’s SALVEO survey. Burnout symptoms were
ascertained through the Maslah Burnout Inventory General Survey. The
findings show that there is a significant link between commuting (i.e.
the trip between home and work) and the presentation of the symptoms
professional burnout.

No surprises: the bigger the city, the more stressful the commute, at least for people travelling by car.

“People
commuting towards rural areas, or even suburban areas, feel less
stressed out,” Barreck said, the finding coming as no surprise to her
either. She did, however, note that passengers are more likely to be
stressed out than drivers. “Carpooling reduces the passenger commuters’
sense of control, which causes them more stress before they’ve even
arrived at work,” she said.

However, people commuting towards
rural areas are not entirely spared: those who take long trips in public
transit feel less effective in the workplace.

“Public transit
implies bus or train connections, and as rural regions are less well
served, the risk of unforeseeable and uncontrollable delays is
increased, causing stress that is carried over into the workplace,”
Barreck explained. The opposite is true for transit users in major urban
areas: the variety of types and times of service means they’re less
likely to have symptoms of burnout.

Biking is also a mixed bag
that is determined by the profile of the area the commuter is working
in. Commuting by bike in the suburbs is particularly stressful.

“Cyclists
in the suburbs have a lesser sense of control than cyclists in the
city,” Barreck explained. “Cyclists and walkers in the city have access
to safety features such as cycle paths and pedestrian crossings, which
increases their sense of control over their commute. Meanwhile, as
businesses have been leaving city centres over the past 20 years, car
traffic continues to increase in the suburbs. In the country, cyclists
and walkers use quiet country roads, which are comparatively less
stressful and offer a greater sense of control.”

Commuting
doesn’t have to contribute to burnout. “The effects of the duration of a
commute on a person’s mental health vary according to the type of
transport used and the profile of the area where the person works,”
Barreck said.

Her findings show that the risk of burnout
increases significantly when a commute lasts more than 20 minutes. In
Quebec, it takes an average of 32. Above 35 minutes, all employees are
at increased risk of cynicism toward their job.

Barreck believes this should lead employers to adopt flexible commuting arrangements.

“Managing
employee commuting flexibly would increase employee efficiency and
moreover enable organisations to attract or retain workers. In the
current context of skill shortages, employers have everything to gain
from facilitating the mental health of their employees,” she said.


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