One of my main areas of interest at the moment is the commute. Very few people have anything good to say about their journey to or from work. This is especially the case for those travelling into Central London where UCLIC is based, as this normally involves crowded, expensive and sometimes delayed public transport. While a considerable source of stress and expense, commuting is something some of us spend hours of our week doing. Not only that, but it is also the first thing we do before and after work, making it incredibly relevant for studies on work/life balance.
The main thing I have noticed from speaking to people about their commutes is that many people attempt to offset the sense that commuting is just dead time by taking part in activities that they enjoy or find useful. There are obvious restrictions in what people can do while travelling (for example, you wouldn’t be able to check your e-mails while on the underground), but individuals find ways round this and adapt their activities accordingly. For instance, speaking to one commuter who travels from the border of South London, he reported to use his time on the tube to draft e-mails that could then be sent when he was walking from the tube station once he arrived.
Although this aspect may not be a surprise to anyone who has noticed the vast number of commuters immersed in their various books or devices, what I’m mostly interested in is the possible impact of what people chose to do during their journeys. The commuter I mentioned before claimed that being able to pre-emptively begin tackling his workload meant that when he turned up to the office, he wasn’t worried about what might be waiting for him. Similarly, being able to start updating documents or reading e-mails on the way to work helped him prepare himself mentally for the working day ahead.
However, what effect does performing work related tasks on the way home have? The periods of time that segregate work and home have been argued to be really important in relation to how well people can relax once they get home, and how prepared they feel for the next day. Therefore, what we choose to do, and how well it offsets the negative experience of the commute, may have broader implications in terms of subsequent relaxation, work-stress and performance when back at work.
We plan to investigate not only what people tend to do on their commute and how this differs according to features of the journey (such as whether it’s over-ground or underground, or how long the journey is), but also the impact this has on post-work recovery, work stress and work home interference. It’s possible that working on the way home stops commuters from being able to switch off from work, and this might influence how well they relax once they get home. Conversely, the flexibility of being able to work on the journey might actually be a positive influence, as it means a few last minute tasks can be completed before arriving home, avoiding this being done once they’re with their family. Whether it’s positive or negative may depend on the person, their job, or the kinds of tasks they are performing on the journey, all of which we are planning to measure.
What we’re ultimately hoping to achieve is a better idea of whether the commute is an important time for recovering from the daily stresses of work, and if so, how it can be best utilised depending on individual factors and what kind of work you are doing.
Keep an eye on the blog for some of our preliminary findings!
Until next time! Emily & the DE team