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How can employers relieve commuters’ stress?

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With the prolonged standoff between the RMT and Southern Rail resulting in further strikes later this month, what can employers do to make commuters' lives easier?

In a summer dominated by Brexit, a saga has been bubbling away in the background: a drawn out battle that has affected many, from Balham to Brighton, from London Bridge to Littlehampton. Of course, I’m talking about Southern Rail’s protracted stand-off with the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT).

It’s been a calamitous couple of month for Southern. In June it was announced that they had the joint lowest customer satisfaction rate in the country, that up to 90 trains a day were being cancelled (this then grew to 350 trains), and that a measly 25% of customers were happy with the way they handled cancellations. Since then the RMT has repeatedly threatened and carried out strike action, citing passenger safety as their main concern as the franchise is attempting to remove conductors from their service.

The dispute looks set to come to a head this month, as the RMT have announced two weeks of strike action in October. Southern have reacted by launching a counter-campaign on their twitter account, calling for passengers to tell the Union how they feel about the strikes. The responses haven’t quite been the reaction they were looking for.

So what about the passenger? It’s been a pretty miserable time for commuters, with many passengers facing cancellations on a daily basis. Surely this must be having an effect on commuters’ working lives. 

James Lillywhite regularly uses Southern Rail to travel into London from Worthing in Sussex: “I am extremely lucky to work in an office that understands why I am often late due to the terrible service provided by Southern.

“For people who are less fortunate it must put massive strain on their jobs, and it is all because of something that is entirely out of their hands. It has become the case that an issue between Southern and their workers has now started to impact the jobs of passengers, something which seems extremely unfair.”

A study by the Office for National Statistics in 2014 looked to quantify how a daily commute would affect four key areas of personal well-being: life satisfaction, a sense of whether their daily activities are worthwhile, levels of happiness, and anxiety. Commuters scored worse in all categories when compared to non-commuters, with journeys of 61-90 minutes having the greatest effect on respondents. With cancellations inevitably adding more stress to employees’ journeys, what can employers do to relieve the stress of the daily grind? 

Jason Downes, managing director of powwonow.co.uk, believes that a flexible working schedule will cure some of the woes of employees: “Depending on where you live, commuting can add hours on to your day and leave you exhausted before you’ve even began working.

“Employers should offer their staff flexible working schemes to combat the gruelling commute. There are many forms of flexible working from remote working to compressed hours.” 

Commuting can often be overlooked in the constant search for a better work-life balance. An arduous journey can eat away at the ever-decreasing time we spend at the office. Flexible working could lead to improving this balance, in turn creating a happier workforce and driving more business.

Downes commented: “From a recent survey we ran, 77% of UK employers said that a better work-life balance was their top benefit of flexible working, therefore in order to improve company morale these schemes must be implemented to remain successful in the competitive market.”

Tom Ritchie

By Tom Ritchie

Tom is an editorial assistant at Changeboard.

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