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Professional burnout is a real thing and it affects people in different ways, but if you see your colleague full-on passing out at their desk or ranting incomprehensibly in the kitchen on a semi-regular basis, chances are he or she is suffering the effects. Burnout usually manifests itself in the form of physical or mental exhaustion, and can also cause a heightened cynicism towards your job. Often, it’s what spurs people to leave their places of employment.

The time it takes to get to and from work contributes majorly to a worker’s burnout risk, according to a study out of the University of Montreal. The severity of the burnout depends on commute distance, the mode of transport (whether by car, train, bus, or  bike), and whether you commute in a rural or urban area.

One of the study conductors, Annie Barreck, said: “A correlation exists between commuting stress factors and the likelihood of suffering from burnout, but their importance varies according to the individual, the conditions in which their trips take place, and the place where the individual works.”

When a commute lasts longer than 20 minutes, chances are high you will eventually suffer burnout. Above 35 minutes? You’re pretty much guaranteed.

For people travelling by car, the larger the city, the more stressful the commute. People commuting towards rural or suburban areas feel less frazzled, Barreck said. No surprises here: passengers are more likely to be stressed out than drivers.

“Carpooling reduces the passenger commuters’ sense of control, which causes them more stress before they’ve even arrived at work,” Barreck said.
If you’re thinking “Don’t look at me, I take the bus/subway!” with a smug smirk on your face, think again.

“Public transit implies bus or train connections, and as rural regions are less well-served, the risk of unforeseeable and uncontrollable delays is increased, causing stress that is carried over into the workplace,” said Barreck.

People taking public transit in major urban centres feel the opposite effect (though we can say from experience it’s a different sort of hell), according to the study. Because there are more options, and trains/buses leave at multiple times during the day, it’s not as stressful for the commuter, but other things make up for that… like congestion, traffic, rudeness, people who eat McDonald’s on the subway… sorry, we’re getting away from ourselves here.

So what if you cycle to work? You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. On one hand, in the city, there are more bike lanes and bike-friendly streets but increasingly more congestion and chances for accidents with cars. In the suburbs or country, there aren’t many bike lanes, but you’re generally safer as long as you’re a conscientious rider.

The study’s solution to this potential population of burnouts lies squarely on the shoulders of the employers.

Barreck believes employers should help reduce the stress of commutes by allowing employees more flexible alternatives, like travelling on non-peak hours or working from home.

“Managing employee commuting flexibly would increase employee efficiency and moreover enable organizations to attract or retain workers,” said Barreck. “In the current context of skill shortages, employers have everything to gain from facilitating the mental health of their employees.”

If you want to take on some of the responsibility, and you live within a half-hour’s walking distance from your job, may we suggest hoofing it to work? No traffic, you’re getting some exercise, and think about the adventures you could have!