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Commute time: How long is too long?

BY: Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN on January 30, 2019

No one likes spending a long time on the road getting to and from work each day, but many employees must.

As a recruiter you probably deal with this issue frequently with applicants, each of whom is unique and handles commute time differently.

Some may not talk about it at all, while others may just briefly mention it. But to get the job they are interviewing for most will downplay the negatives of long commutes.

As a result, most facilities have employees with long and exhausting commutes that are coloring their job performance, disrupting their work-life balance, decreasing their job satisfaction and more.

A 2018 Gallup poll found the average employee commute is 45 minutes, and “commutes of this length are linked to poorer overall well-being, daily mood and health.”

The applicant, you and the decision

Often you and the applicant are torn on what to say about the commute issue.

The applicant doesn’t want to take the chance of losing a wonderful job at a great facility, or give up a good salary and benefits. He or she just hopes the job and the money will compensate for the long commute time it will entail, so he or she says nothing.

As the recruiter, you have a vacancy to fill and you don’t want to lose a good applicant because of the commute. You don’t want that to be the deal breaker, but you also don’t need to be reluctant to discuss it.

The applicant can decide how long a commute he or she is willing to make. It’s also important to you and there’s no laws regarding discussing it.  Commutes can be discussed and even factored into the hiring decision.

Will you and the applicant take the time to look at the variables and weigh them carefully? Or, like the well-known aphorism warns, will you “act in haste and repent at leisure?”

Experience is the best teacher

We all know success and failure because we’ve experienced both. What we’ve learned is invaluable to our colleagues and our applicants, so please take some time to look at the following questions and share your thoughts.

  • Do you routinely include a discussion of work-life balance needs, such as long commute times, in your interview process?
  • Have you found the hassle of a long commute to be worth it for applicants who were being offered their “dream job,” and did those hires work out?
  • Do your nurse leaders have issues, such as tardiness and overtime costs, with employees who have long commutes?
  • Is the employee’s commute an even more crucial factor in the hiring decision when the job includes on-call duties in critical care areas?
  • Have you found long commutes lead to higher attrition and shorter employee tenures when you study your attrition and turnover rates?
  • Does your facility provide any special considerations for nurses who live at greater distances? If so, what are they?
  • Have you had applicants who knew their commute time was long but accepted the job and stayed in it only long enough to get the experience they needed?

Points to remember

There are many interesting and perplexing questions around the long commute issue, but not nearly as many answers.

In all decisions, put your staff and the patients waiting for a nurse first. Their best interests need to be paramount.

Research reveals some people are more willing to undertake long commutes than others based simply on their geographic location. We shared these details in our 2018 nursing salary report.

On-call response rules may obviate the need to ask how long an applicant’s commute time is. If the nurse can’t arrive in the established time frame, the commute is too long.

There’s a lot of research and information on distance guidelines but three main questions continually come up:

  1. What distance is too far?
  2. How long is too long for a commute to take?
  3. Is the trip difficult? Discuss trains, buses, bridges, tunnels, tolls and difficult driving routes.

You all have great nurses who were hired despite difficult commutes. What can you do to keep them? Check out the helpful advice in this article on how to avoid losing employees you want to keep.

Don’t play guessing games. Factors such as the cost of gas, tolls and parking are easy to quantify if you are talking with nurses about salary versus commuting costs. Know the facts.

Applicants of various ages and roles don’t all feel the same about their commutes. A trip one can’t tolerate is fine for another, and terms such as too long, too loud and too crowded are subjective.

Know the questions you can ask and have the answers to the questions applicants might ask you about travel and rules about getting to work on time.

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Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, is a former senior vice president and chief nurse executive who led nursing programs and initiatives. She continues to write and act as a consultant for Nurse.com. Before joining the company in 1998, Williamson was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of the system’s member hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in administration, and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. She also is a board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing.