Are commuters sicker than other employees?

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Mobile world of work: Does commuting make you sick?
Especially now in the cold season, when the days are getting shorter and shorter, many commuters make their way to work before sunrise and only return home after sunset. This is really not pleasant, but is commuting really bad for your health?

Almost every second employee commutes
According to the report “Mobility in the world of work” by Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), almost half of all employees in Germany (45 percent) are commuters, i.e. their workplace is in a different circle from their home. Commuting is not only a burden on the environment, but according to various studies also leads to an increased health risk for employees. However, this is apparently not apparent from the sick leaves.

Rarer and less on sick leave
According to the current TK report “Mobility in the world of work”, commuters are generally less on sick leave than employees with a short journey to work, but they are more affected by mental illnesses.

As the health insurance company writes in a press release, the evaluation showed that, statistically speaking, commuters who were absent from work for a total of 13.7 days in 2017 were half a day less on sick leave than those who had a short commute to work (14.2).

Of the employees who work close to their homes, 52.3 percent were on sick leave at least once, while among commuters, at 49.4 percent, only just under half were absent at least once last year.

Albrecht Wehner, responsible for health reports at TK, explained: “We are assuming the so-called Healthy Worker Effect, which means that more commuting to work is more likely to be accepted by people in good health”.

Long commutes get on your nerves
However, commuters, especially female commuters, are more affected by psychologically induced sick leave.

“Because occupations that are associated with commuting to an above-average extent tend to be characterised by lower psychological stress, we assume that the higher psychological absences are caused by commuting itself,” says the telecommunications expert.

According to the TK study, 242 days of absence per 100 commuters in 2017 were due to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, etc. The study also found that the number of commuters was higher in Germany.

For employees with short travel times, the figure was only 219 days. The days lost due to mental illness are thus almost eleven percent higher for commuters than for employees with local commuter traffic. In the case of women, the difference is even around 15 percent.

The preliminary study of TK 2012 had already shown that mental illnesses are more common among commuters.

Road traffic is annoying
The stress study conducted by TK in 2016 had already shown that road traffic is one of the main causes of stress among the working population.

One third – men and women alike – say they feel stressed by road traffic.

“This means that road traffic as a stress factor has the same significance as constant accessibility via smartphone, Facebook and the like,” said Wehner.

Multiple burdens for women
According to the data, the proportion of employees whose place of work is different from their home is higher for men than for women.

“This is probably also due to the fact that women still take on more tasks at home and the multiple burden of household and childcare does not allow for long commuting,” explained Wehner.

“In addition, women are more likely to work part-time, so that long journeys and shorter working hours do not pay off,” the expert said.

The proportion of commuters varies considerably between the individual occupational fields. As expected, the highest proportion of commuters are employed in aviation, such as pilots and service specialists as well as sales staff.

Some commute 200 kilometers and more per route
In many IT professions, employees also travel long distances. The fewest commuters are in agricultural and nutrition professions and among employees in private households such as housekeepers and cleaners.

“There are many social and service occupations in almost every town. That is why there are fewer commuters here. The more specialized the occupation, the fewer places of work there are and the longer distances the employees often have to cover. In addition, the time required for commuting only pays off if it is financially worthwhile,” explained Wehner.

This is also reflected in the fact that the higher the number of employees who have completed their training, the greater the proportion of commuters.

Employees without or in training are less likely to work outside their residential area (38 percent commuters), while employees with doctorates and other university degrees commute particularly widely.

Almost one in two of them commute. 7.5 per cent of men and 5.4 per cent of women in this group are 20 per cent or more in work.

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