Working While You Commute – Should Employers Show Us the Money?


The latest research shows 1 in 6 brits spend 2 or more hours commuting per day. With 10% of those coughing up on average £150-£170 per month to do so. Those commuting into London have to dig even deeper. Shelling out a whopping £300-350 per month for the pleasure of being pressed nose to armpit against perspiring strangers on the train and tube. Studies show the daily commute causes anxiety, depression, and obesity, but this isn’t new information. A lesser-known stat is that almost 60% of those that use rail for the daily commute are using that time to WORK!

Sometime in the 90’s, when breakfast was eaten at home, lunch was an hour and the commute was thought to be personal time. You hopped on the train and would almost always take a seat; I kid you not. Once settled you would pop your Sony Discman on the table, lean back, relax, and listen to Alanis Morrissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’. Others listened to ‘5,6,7,8’ by Steps, and no more should be said about that. Back then the shuttle to and from your job was time to adjust between the worlds of work and home, how things change.

Tablets smartphones and web access have made the train a rather cramped extension of the office. Checking emails, preparing the day's to-do list, finishing off that report, and responding to voicemails during the commute has become standard practice.

Work-life imbalance and workload are without a doubt the biggest drivers of stress in modern day Britain. Nevertheless, if you’re working while you travel, you’re at least being productive and managing your time, but does anyone really care? Why do it if there’s no thanks or remuneration?

For most clocking in before reaching the office is not a choice. Time pressed employees are forced to do so if they’ve any hope of managing their daily workload. So, should work done in transit be considered part of the working day? Should we be paid when we go over and above? Some regulatory changes which account for increasingly lengthy commutes and work done while travelling have already been made across Europe, but do they go far enough? None of us wants to work for free, but the economic and social implications of travel time becoming legislated work time are far reaching.

The IoD’s parliamentary affairs officer Mr Kerr said: “If commuting is to be treated as work time, defining where leisure begins and work ends will be vital for both employers and personnel. While doing so has the potential to radically improve work-life balance, I’m aware the stats show it would also leave the door open to increased stress and lower productivity in the workplace.”

Dr Juliet Jane from the UWE added: “Such practices being implemented must take into account data security and GDPR. The devices of employees who work during their commute would need to be equipped with appropriate security to comply with GDPR and employers’ policies in relation to client data.”

The debate on whether we should be paid for work done during the commute rages on. Parliament, employers, and employees have very different ideas about how time spent commuting should be used and what its value is. As it stands in the UK if you’re working while commuting, you’re simply saving your taskmaster the expense of higher wages. Not to mention doing so puts you firmly in the ‘Always-On’ brigade.

If you ever find the time to look up from your laptop, that dog tired preoccupied automaton you see may be your reflection. Remember when you had a hobby, or spent the evening putting the world to rights with friends?   Here’s a thought, when next on the train grab your headphones and put your favourite album, podcast or audio book on. Start work when you get to the office, do a damn good job, and when the bell goes at 5.30pm virtually disconnect and leave. Go on, I double dare you!

Words by George Carter

LifestyleTim Byrne