Long commute may increase absenteeism

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New research has revealed a link between absenteeism and the length of employees’ commute – and if you’re lucky enough employ a workforce who lives just around the corner, you’ll see a 16% drop in absenteeism.

Researchers from VU University in the Netherlands have been the first to release an empirical analysis of the relationship between long commute times and absenteeism.

Their research paper, Are workers with a long commute less productive? indicated that in addition to reduced productivity, workers with longer commutes are likely to have higher rates of absence.

“On average, absenteeism would be about 16% less if all workers would have a negligible commute. This result contrasts with a large literature in labour and urban economics which assumes that the productivity of workers is independent of the commute,” the report said.

It was found that a longer commuting time may induce workers to arrive late at work, or leave earlier, which reduces productivity. These reductions in productivity, namely through increased absenteeism, may be observed by an employer, and the employer may take this into account when hiring (or firing) a certain worker, the report noted.

The researchers recorded complications when workers with a long commute become less productive by reducing effort levels, known as ‘presenteeism’, and it was noted that‘shirking’ cannot be observed by the employer (or is costly to monitor).

The research offered two explanations as to why the length of the commute may increase absenteeism, namely:

  • The first explanation is that the benefit of an additional day absent means the worker gains in leisure time while being absent, but workers with a longer commute also enjoy a larger reduction in commuting time. This explanation is consistent with voluntary absenteeism and therefore shirking.

  • The second explanation is that the workers’ length of the commute decreases the workers’ health, which induces absenteeism. For example, according to Koslowsky et al. (1995), long commutes strongly contribute to stress, and this explanation is consistent with involuntary absenteeism.


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