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Can Commuting Be Good For Your Career?

full bus commute

Commuting for some is a daily hell, but it can also have a positive impact on your career path. Here, technology writer Gemma Church explores that impact and discusses ways to improve your commute. 

Commuting: How changing your perspective will change your career forever

How do you feel about commuting? Do you see the journey to and from work as a thankless chore, or an opportunity to access a job with better career prospects and pay?

Whatever your opinion, commuting is now part of our working life. The length of our commutes has also increased and more than three million people in the UK commute for at least two hours a day, according to The Trades Union Congress.

Yet, the daily commute is often lambasted as a time-wasting and money-devouring driver for poor physical and mental health. But if you change your approach to and perspective of the “rat race”, it could be a golden ticket to your dream job.

blurred tube train speeding through London underground

The facts and figures of commuting

On the one hand, rising petrol and season ticket costs make commuting appear to be an expensive option but, on the other hand, lengthy commutes are often rewarded with better pay.

We did some initial market research into the average salaries for developer roles (including Java, SQL and front-end positions) between nearby cities. The results found those willing to travel further could be financially better off.

Developers in Reading could earn (on average) more than £200 extra per month compared to those in Slough – and the two cities are as little as 19 minutes apart on the train

For example, Edinburgh and Glasgow are just less than an hour apart on the train, and it takes an average of 74 minutes to drive between the two cities. Yet, you could earn (on average) £6,000 more per year in Edinburgh, compared to Glasgow. In Bristol, you could earn (on average) nearly £8,000 more per year as a SQL developer compared to Cardiff, and there’s an approximate one-hour commute between these two cities too.

You don’t need to sign up to a longer commute either to be financially better off. We also found that developers in Reading could earn (on average) more than £200 extra per month compared to those in Slough – and the two cities are as little as 19 minutes apart on the train, or a 30-minute drive.

The choice to commute depends on your priorities and perspectives – but don’t be hoodwinked into believing a long commute automatically means you’ll be out of pocket.

pound coins in pattern

Commuting: long-held assumptions and other hidden benefits

It’s not just the cost of commuting that’s given a bad rap. Some of the disadvantages to the daily commute can also bring surprising benefits, depending on your perspective.

You can work in a hub of expertise and career opportunities

If you travel to work in a city synonymous with your industry sector, you will learn more from the people around you. This is one good reason to commute – you might not see a tangible monetary value in the short term, but your career could benefit in future from the experiences you gain and the network you build in such specialist cities.

high rise office building at night with clourful lights

Higher demand could equal higher pay

Your company will also pay a more competitive salary to stop you getting poached by others in cities where demand is high.

For example, at the time of writing Adzuna had 54 java developer roles in Birmingham on the books, commanding an average salary of almost £46,000. But in Coventry, which is only a 30-minute drive or 20-minute train ride away from Birmingham, Adzuna had 14 similar roles – and these paid an average salary of more than £52,000.

technology computer chips gigabyte

It’s all about demand – the number of roles does not matter.

But fewer roles in one city does not always equal greater pay. Some cities with more available roles will also pay more than those with less vacancies to fill. For example, there were 16 SQL developer roles in Bristol at the time of writing, commanding an average salary of more than £47,000. In Cardiff, which is roughly one hour away from Bristol, there were 12 such SQL roles offering an average salary of £38,500.

It’s all about demand – the number of roles does not matter. It’s how much a specific postcode will pay for your skill set that is a true testament to how much you will be valued (and learn) in that locale. In other words commuting to a city where your profession is in demand means you can command – and possibly demand – a more competitive salary.

Commuting impacts negatively on your physical and mental health

One clear downside to the daily commute is its association with poor wellbeing. A study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine linked lengthy commutes with high blood pressure and being overweight as commuters are sedentary and have less time to exercise.

Another study in BioMed Central Public Health linked long commutes with increased stress, decreased energy and high numbers of illness-related work absences, regardless of whether commuters drove or used public transport to get to work.

If you have the opportunity to get on your bike, your commute could also become your daily workout and address your health concerns, instead of adding to them.

However, two million UK workers cycle to work nearly every day, according to We Are Cycling UK. The society also claims those that regularly cycle-commute take more than one day per year less off sick compared to non-cycling colleagues and non-cycle commuters have a 39% higher mortality rate than regular cycle commuters.

If you have the opportunity to get on your bike, your commute could also become your daily workout and address your health concerns, instead of adding to them.

man cycling to work during summer

A clear separation between the home and office

You could also reach the office feeling mentally stronger if you view your commute as an opportunity to create a clear break between home and work, according to a study in Transportation Research. Processing the events of your day in the office can help you to leave your work issues behind, allowing you to be more relaxed when you arrive home. And, on the journey to work, you can use your commute to prepare yourself mentally for the day ahead.

An opportunity to do what you love

Your commute could be beneficial if you view the time as a break from other commitments and responsibilities, according to a study in the Journal of Transport Geography. If you use your commute to engage in pleasurable activities, such as listening to music or podcasts, learning a new skill or reading a book, it may help you view the commute as leisure time.

blurred image of UK train behind man listening to music

To commute or not to commute?

If you change your perspective and try to wring out all the benefits of commuting, you will reap the benefits of working in a location where your role is in demand and competitively paid. It’s not that difficult to do either – check out our tips on creating a happier commute.

I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t downsides to commuting – but there are clear and, often, surprising benefits. So, don’t let a commute (or your assumptions on commuting) hold you back from pursuing your dream job.

Gemma Church is “the freelance writer who gets tech”, a specialist journalist, copywriter and blogger for the science and technology sectors. Follow her at @geditorial_uk

Whether you’re searching for jobs closer to home or are casting your net wide, you’ll find all IT jobs in the UK listed on Adzuna.