Here’s something the daily commuter really doesn’t want to hear: driving can literally increase burnout at work. How’s this? How can driving your car lead to burnout on the job? For a look at the answers, we turn to the results of a recent study conducted in Quebec, Canada at the University of Montreal’s School of Industrial Relations.

Stress Factors

What’s the cause of burnout, anyway? Experts point to mounting stress as a key culprit. As the Canadian researchers found out, driving can be inherently stressful. In this, the stress factors associated with commuting correlate with the likelihood the driver will experience burnout at work.

When traveling by car, researchers found that the bigger the city, the more stressful the commute. While that seems like a no-brainer, it’s still interesting. Maybe there’s a way to make the daily commute less stressful, as in engaging in mindfulness meditation behind the wheel – as long as you’re careful to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. It’s OK to drift off into a peaceful environment in your mind, but somehow keep your concentration on the act of driving. Safety first, always. Note that these are our observations only. The Canadian researchers just pointed out that stress levels increased with drivers in bigger cities.

Passengers are even more stressed out than drivers, according to the study. This was a surprise to researchers, who figured that it would only be the driver that experienced mounting stress. Annie Barreck, lead researcher, explains it this way: “Carpooling reduces the passenger commuters’ sense of control, which causes them more stress before they’ve even arrived at work.” Our solution to this is to ditch the passengers and drive solo – maybe with the aid of calming music or an inspirational tape.

Burnout Isn’t Inevitable

Even though commuting can be quite stressful, it doesn’t necessarily or inevitably lead to burnout at work. According to Barreck’s findings, if a commute lasts longer than 20 minutes, the risk of job burnout increases significantly. The average commute in Quebec is 32 minutes; anything above 35 minutes results in employees’ experiencing increased cynicism toward their jobs.

One solution Barreck proposes is that employers lend enthusiastic support to flexible commuting arrangements. “Managing employee commuting flexibility would increase employee efficiency and moreover enable organizations to attract or retain workers.”

What About Alternative Transport?

If driving is so stressful, why not take the train, bus, subway, or bike? These alternate modes of transportation may have their usefulness, but lowering stress levels and, consequently, reducing the likelihood of job burnout isn’t necessarily part of the equation.

As the research clearly pointed out, those who take long public transit trips feel like they’re less effective in the workplace. The reasons for this include the fact that many bus and train routes require connections. And in rural areas, those connections may be few and far between. Delays, uncontrollable and unforeseeable, contribute to increased stress. On the other hand, commuters in major urban areas who use trains, buses and subways have the benefit of more frequent service and variety of transit options, which leads to less stress overall.

If you’re considering biking to work, that’s kind of a mixed bag, too. It depends on the area where you work and where you’re commuting from. It’s particularly stressful in the suburbs, where cyclists have less control than in urban areas. Car traffic is heavier in the suburbs, especially since many businesses have left the urban area to have a presence in the suburbs. That increased amount of cars on the road leaves cyclists with mounting stress.

Reduce Driving Stress

If driving isn’t an option, but a necessity, help yourself by reducing as much stress from your time behind the wheel as possible. Follow these tips:

  • Allow a little extra time. Since you never know what kinds of traffic snafus or unexpected weather will result in delays, adding to your frustration and increasing your stress level, build in some extra time for the drive. Try 10-15 minutes. If you don’t need it and arrive early, reward yourself with a nice cup of coffee or a pleasant conversation with a co-worker, a quick call to a loved one, or a calming walk outside.
  • Make your vehicle a sanctuary. This might sound a little odd, but there are things you can do to make where you sit for long periods commuting a little more inviting. Get an in-seat massage unit or lumbar pillows for extra support.
  • Bring your favorite music or have the audio pre-set to the stations you like. As previously mentioned, listening to soothing music can help reduce stress by lowering your blood pressure.
  • Try alternative routes. The point is to vary your driving commute so that you do not always have to deal with the crush of cars at certain known trouble spots. This technique also adds variety to your daily drive and promotes a sense of adventure. What will you see today that you didn’t see before? Try actively looking to identify something new.

There is one other option: Do whatever you can to telecommute. If the option is available to you, even a few days a week, it’s well worth looking into with your employer. Leave the stressful driving to someone else. Now, just make sure you have your work ethic on, even if you’re working in your pajamas.

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