The psychosocial costs of commuting: Understanding relationships between time, control, stress, and well-being

Date of Completion

January 2010


Psychology, Industrial|Sociology, Organizational




Commuting can be a considerable source of stress for many working adults. In particular, the time spent traveling between work and home has been characterized as a daily hassle that can impact mood, health, and satisfaction, among other psychosocial outcomes (Koslowsky, Kluger, & Reich, 1995). Researchers are still trying to understand the mechanisms linking commute characteristics to adverse outcomes, particularly with regard to underlying mediating and moderating processes. The current study examines these relationships in the context of three complementary theories of psychological stress: conservation of resources theory (Hobfoll, 1989), the transactional theory of stress (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), and the job demand-control model (Karasek, 1979). Commute time was hypothesized to relate to psychosocial outcomes via perceptions of commuting stress. In addition, conceptualizations of control over time (i.e., control over time spent commuting, job control, desire to control time, and time pressure) were posited as moderators of these mediated relationships. ^ The hypotheses were tested using survey data from two samples of working adults. Findings from sample one indicated significant indirect and mediated relationships between commute time and work, home, and health outcomes via commuting stress. However, commute time was not related to commuting stress in the second sample, and did not evidence significant indirect relationships with the aforementioned outcomes. Additionally, the hypothesized moderating relationships regarding time control were not statistically significant, but the control-related variables were directly associated with commuting stress. Follow-up analyses explored the concept of relative commute time (i.e., the difference between one's current commute time and one's subjective appraisal of a "reasonable" commute time) as a more salient predictor of commuting stress than absolute commute time. Sample comparisons also suggest that the frequent use of flexible work arrangements by workers in sample two may have served to buffer commuting stress. The results of this study suggest that researchers should reevaluate the common assumption that longer commutes are more stressful. Instead, control over one's commute and one's job may be more relevant predictors of commuting stress. Furthermore, flexible work arrangements show promise as an organizational intervention to aid employees in managing commuting stress through increased control. ^