The long and winding road
February 15, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Is an ostensibly better job worth a longer commute?

I've searched the archives but most commuting questions deal with how to survive them! My question is more about whether I should even take one on.

Currently, my job is 5 minutes' drive from my house. In fact, I've been lucky throughout my life and have never worked more than 5 to 10 minutes from home. However, I have been offered a position in an office that is between 30 and 45 minutes away (shorter by car, longer by subway). The subway ride is going against the pedestrian flow, so would not be too crowded or too long a wait each time. The stops on each end are less than 10 minutes' walk from my destination. The price for a month-long pass is about what I currently spend on gas.

The rate of pay is roughly the same, but the workload is less so I would be expected to spend fewer hours in the office each day. However, that newfound "free" time would be somewhat eaten up by the necessary commute.

My reasons for switching are almost 100% due to the lighter workload and lighter responsibility. I feel overworked and underappreciated right now, and am happy to switch for the same pay. The people here are great, as are the ones at the potential new job. Everything else is roughly equal, and my only concern therefore is about the commute.

Is it a worthwhile trade-off?
posted by Pomo to Work & Money (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have never had a job that was less than a 30 minute commute. It has always worked out just fine. An hour a day really isn't a big deal.
posted by Kimberly at 2:08 PM on February 15, 2011

If you can take the subway and use that time to enjoy your coffee/read the paper and magazines/write in your journal/whatever, then I'd say go for it!
posted by cyndigo at 2:09 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Well, assuming it's not too stressful (doesn't sound that way to me) then it's mostly about time. Are you saving more than 1 hr a day in work time? If so it's a win there, and it sounds like a win in general stress level as well.

Unless you _really_ hate driving / subway. An hour a day drive wouldn't bother me at all, especially if it meant I worked 1 or 2 hours less.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:10 PM on February 15, 2011

Do you have dependents? If you do have kids/SO to consider, take the commute time, assume bad traffic, multiply by two, and then consider how that lost time will impacts your interactions with them. It's not a determining factor, just a variable to consider.
posted by Ys at 2:12 PM on February 15, 2011

So your total work+commute time will be roughly the same (slightly less at the new job?)? The main distinction is that the balance will be different, right?

In that scenario, it seems reasonable to assume that you will be less stressed out while at home, if you take the new job. Which is to say, that while your at-home time will be roughly the same, it will now be of a higher quality because you will be less stressed out in general. This seems like a good reason to take the job.
posted by oddman at 2:13 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a 2 hour commute each way--not for better money but because I was unemployed and didn't have a choice.

The upsides of that job (which lasted a year and a half)

1. met some great people
2. learned a lot


1. brand new, zero mile car had 80k miles on it after a year and a half
2. spent a $100 a WEEK on gas + tolls
3. horrible pain in my leg from the gas pedel. Cruise wasn't an option in full blown traffic
4. winter/snow = 3+ hour commute. Good times.

I left there poorer than when I started by the time you did the cost ratio. Plus my entire day with this commute was get up at 5am, drive, get there by 7:30, leave by 4, get home by 6, eat, watch 2 shows, maybe exercise, go to bed. Then add b.s. politics, it made me a very unhappy person. But that commute was a big factor to that unhappiness.

I have only once worked 10 min away. I envy you. On average we're looking at a 40 min commute by train or car. Not fun but typical for people.
posted by stormpooper at 2:15 PM on February 15, 2011

Another dependent issue - a longer commute / taking transit makes it difficult to pick up sick kids and deal with other mid-day disturbances.

That said, I'd go for it. I love that I get ~30 minutes of walking in every day just by commuting via transit. It's a nice way to get some exercise in and a nice way to wake up.
posted by momus_window at 2:17 PM on February 15, 2011

Potential dependent issues aside this seems like a slam dunk for the new job.

I'd look at it as being lucky to previously have such a short commute. My commute ranges between 30min to 1 hour depending on various factors.

Also, you may find that riding a bicycle to work is faster than driving or public transit.
posted by karmaportrait at 2:22 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are there other things near your potential new job that might also make it worthwhile? For example, if there was a gym or coffee shop or restaurant close by that you normally don't get to go to?

I live 5 minutes from work, too. I used to live farther (like 20 minutes) and liked the drive in as a way to get in the right mindset for work.
posted by cabingirl at 2:23 PM on February 15, 2011

Best answer: Oh totally worth it. I bet that your morning commute will become sacred to you.

On the counterflow, you're going to get a seat, plug in those earphones and listen to some tunes or a podcast of that show you missed last week, or settle into the good novel on your kindle, or actually get to read the paper in the morning when it feels like it's supposed to be read. All quietly, before you arrive at your office where the people are just as nice as your last job, the stress will be less and you will feel more rewarded for what you do.
posted by meerkatty at 2:25 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the very quick and helpful answers, so far!

To clarify for those who asked: no dependents, save for my dog who seems quite happy to go 8 to 10 hours without me.
posted by Pomo at 2:26 PM on February 15, 2011

Best answer: I think this depends entirely on whether you are the sort of person who finds commuting horribly stressful or if you are able to use the time to relax, read, listen to music/podcasts, or do something else other than just commuting.

I have friends who hate commuting with a passion -- they dread it each day and it drains them of all their energy by the time they get home from work. For them, I think it would be worthwhile to stick it out at the closer job, so that your free time is actually free.

That said, I've almost always had a ~45 minute commute. I drive and either listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts. I usually bring a delicious cup of iced coffee or tea for the morning commute, and just enjoy the time to have some personal space before getting to the office. So, if you are like me and can entertain yourself, it's worth going for the new job.

I think a good litmus test is how well you handle hanging out in a doctor's waiting room for an hour. Does that drive you nuts, or is it something you can relax during? I'd guess that your feelings towards waiting rooms will probably be similar to your feelings of commuting.
posted by countess duckula at 2:26 PM on February 15, 2011

Every job I've had (except one telecommuting gig) has been at least 45 minutes away by train. You do miss the extra time at first, but public transportation is awesome reading/video game playing/knitting time. I also really dig the mind-clearing walks to and from the train station. If I drove, I'd totally practice singing in the car. If you like alone time, and you are not so super busy that you really need that hour and a half each day, take it.

Is it a direct subway ride, or are there transfers? Every new line you have to wait for represents an additional, significant chunk of commute time.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:27 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I made roughly the same decision two years ago (same job, much less expensive house). I haven't regretted the drive at all -- it gives me time to finish my coffee and listen to a record in the morning, and time to decompress (and listen to another record) after work in the evening. It's really only an issue if it snows, if I forget something, if something needs to happen at home while I'm at work, etc. As a bonus, it has made it psychologically harder to skip the gym, as I have to drive past it on my way home!

I've had to make an effort to fit more walking/exercise into my day, since I'm no longer walking to work (see: the gym), but it sounds like you have that covered with the subway... if I were you, I'd go for it.

Could you take one day off and actually try it, just as if you were going to the new job? That might help you decide whether it's right for you.
posted by vorfeed at 2:32 PM on February 15, 2011

I guess I'm an outlier, but I would say no, based on your circumstances. My experience with a forty five minute commute for three years left me with a very high regard for the virtues of a short commute. I would value it at about 20k a year, meaning I wouldn't even consider it unless I was making that much more.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2011

When I switched jobs for a 15 minute commute (by car) from a 40 minute commute (by car and bus), I absolutely noticed and loved the extra time it freed up. Even though I miss the reading time I got on the bus, it has been so nice to have the extra time in the day.
posted by statolith at 2:53 PM on February 15, 2011

I think yes, it is. I look forward to my commute time and the opportunity when with my husband to chat with him, when alone to listen to audio books and music, and when taking public transportation, to read. And most of all, it is worth it to have a job I actually like.
posted by bearwife at 3:00 PM on February 15, 2011

I would totally take a pay cut if it meant significantly shorter commute. Right now my commute is an hour each way on public transport. If I could get a job with a 5 minute commute I would have TWO EXTRA HOURS a day. I could sleep in for an hour! I could spend an extra hour on my hobbies every day! That would be worth a lot to me - but how much would it be worth to you?
posted by elsietheeel at 3:26 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone who has commuted as much as 3 hours per day. If you are not used to a commute, do not underestimate what it can do to your sense of the day. Keep in mind that the 1.5 hours per day that you spend commuting both ways is more than 1 day per month of straight commute (5 days a week). I perceived those extra hours as part of work, that I don't get paid for. Now that I can walk to work in about 5 minutes, my overall stress level is lower. I sometimes go home for lunch and feel vaguely European about that.

If you read books or like to focus on music when you listen to it, commuting can be a nice pseudo social way to enjoy those things. And a better job can be most definitely be worth it.
posted by dobie at 3:36 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've gone from a 60 minute commute to a 10 minute walk back to a 60 minute commute. And while I loved the 10 minute walk, I'm happy with the 60 minute commute. It's a good commute, as commutes go, and gives me much needed downtime at the start and end of every day.

It sounds like, for you, it comes down to time spent at work vs time spent commuting. If you're going against the flow, then that gives you some personal time that you can spend catching up on reading / knitting / napping. And that's really nice. Really REALLY nice actually.

Couple of things to consider though:
- your social life. Where do you go out / meet friends after work? Will it take longer to get to those places? How often do you do that?
- the reliability of the commute. If you have to change / if the route is unreliable, then 45 minutes may turn into 60 minutes more often than you'd like, and that's not fun.
posted by finding.perdita at 3:38 PM on February 15, 2011

Response by poster: Although I appreciate those comments that mention the extra time one has when not commuting, I must note again that those extra hours are, for me, currently spent at work. I work from about 8 through at least 6, and even with longer hours still would not be caught up. The new job represents about 1/3 to 1/2 of the caseload, meaning I could do 9 to 5 and still be on top of everything.
posted by Pomo at 3:42 PM on February 15, 2011

does the new job have a better chance of getting better pay, more appriciation or a promotion to a position you're really interested in?

Have you talked to your current boss about your problems at your job? If your boss at your current job just straight up dosen't care, well, you might be better off leaving anyway. If it's a temporary thing and your boss is willing to listen to you, then maybe it's worth keeping.

I live in LA and EVERYTHING is a commute, so I don't really mind commuting. I do 40 min to both work and school and don't mind it much. Also, because I can ride it year round, I got a motorcycle and that really makes the commute to work (all surface streets that are usually pretty slow moving) something fun i look foreward to doing.

Or, there's the "look for a third job" solution. If neither job feels right, keep looking until you find the one that feels good, if your current job is tolerable enough to put up with while you look. Maybe someone else would offer you more money in addition to a commute, or you'd find a closer job with less responsibility.
posted by RampantFerret at 3:47 PM on February 15, 2011

OK reading th e post you posted while I was typing, it sounds like to me you'd be happier in the new job. Just think of it as same hours, less stress, slight paycut (because you're not getting paied to travel and are having to spend to travel)
posted by RampantFerret at 3:48 PM on February 15, 2011

I went from an easy bike commute to a 35 minute drive, each way. I absolutely hate driving, but it's been pleasant. I've starting listening to courses from iTunesU and sometimes actually look forward to getting back into the car to listen to another lecture. I never thought I'd be able to stand any sort of drive but it's not been that bad.
posted by monkeymadness at 4:09 PM on February 15, 2011

If the math works out, then take it.

Hating a commute is all in the eye of the beholder. It is as pleasant and unpleasant as you make it. I drive all day for work, and one thing I learned is that it doesn't really take as long as it seems. Turn on the news radio station and use the time to learn about current events. The only time that fails is when there is some kind of accident and you hear the traffic on the eights for the second time and you haven't moved an inch.

The only thing you might have to do is be a little proactive about the weather. Example: the hurri-snow we had in Chicago led most employers to let their people go home early. Well, that just means rush hour is going to be moved up a couple hours. And worse- where people usually filter out of their workplaces sometime in the late afternoon, EVERYONE left at the same time. A neighbor told me it took her an hour just to get out of the parking garage.

So, when nasty weather threatens, invest an hour or two of vacation time and breeze out at lunchtime. Heck, just getting out a half hour ahead of the rush will get the job done. I've even noticed that if I am pulling out of the parking garage right at a quarter hour (4:30, 4:45, 5:00, 5:15), I have much better success than if I am a few minutes ahead or behind. Why? Because that's when people are walking out the doors of their offices. They walk 5 minutes, pull out and are clogging up the streets by 10 after. The clogs are gone by the next quarter hour. I have actually sat there and waited, and it works out. Somehow.
posted by gjc at 4:27 PM on February 15, 2011

If you decide to go with the commute, check out the The Teaching Company. They've got great audio courses and they can make a long commute more productive and enjoyable.

*I'm not affiliated with the Teaching Company, I just like letting people know about them.
posted by Homo economicus at 4:32 PM on February 15, 2011

I didn't preview all the comments, so forgive if I repeat. I have a 1/2 hr driving commute (both ways), versus walking across the street a few years ago. I miss the 'across the street', but I do enjoy being forced to leave the neighborhood everyday. Also, I really hated the 1/2 hr commute at first because it tended to vary in length day-to-day due to traffic. I solved that problem by switching my work hours from 9-5 to 10-6. now i don't mind the commute at all, since it is so predictable....will your commute be predictable? do you think that's something that will bother you?
posted by Tandem Affinity at 4:57 PM on February 15, 2011

Like others, I actually kind of enjoy my commute. I am not a morning person, so the 45-60 minutes I spend driving to work are kind of pleasant. Of course, I commute into Napa, California, so the scenery is nicer than the average commute, I think. I arrive at work at least reasonably alert, caffeine has hit my bloodstream, and my mental gears are already turning. I have found that I actually seem to do better when there's a little time for me to adjust to the home-to-work change.

My radio also doesn't work, and I have found that I actually really enjoy just sitting there, driving and thinking. I brainstorm for projects that I am working on for myself, think about errands I need to run, stuff that needs doing around the house. I thought a long drive with no radio would have me nodding off, but I actually find the time to think very valuable.


Wear and tear on my car, gas, higher insurance, pollution. I also don't really enjoy driving. If you're taking public transportation and these are not concerns for you, then awesome. As Tandem Infinity mentions, the variability in time can also be really irritating. My commute seems to vary by season, so a departure time that is just fine for months might suddenly have me getting to work 20 minutes early or late. Fun.

If your time spent at home wouldn't change with the commute, then yeah, it does seem like a good choice, unless you really, really hate the commute.
posted by ZeroDivides at 5:34 PM on February 15, 2011

On the subway do you have to switch trains? If no, I would go for it for the reduced job stress. A ten minute commute to somewhere you don't want to go is a lot worse than an hour commute to somewhere you do want to go.

I am generally totally against a long commute, and I currently have a pretty darn short commute (around 10 minutes door-to-door including around 2 minutes on a train). But I also did a commute where I had to ride a train for about an hour, and then a bus for another half hour after that, and I actually rather enjoyed it, because the thing at the end of the commute wasn't something I was dreading going to. A train commute can be pretty relaxing itself (especially if you can get a seat)--nothing that you have to do, barely anything that you can do, just staring out the window.

If your work is somewhere in an urban environment with things to do around, it can also be nice to take a little break between work and the commute home to get a snack or stare at a shop for something or other. I also like getting in a little earlier, 8-4 or so, so that when you get home there is still some evening daylight and you can go on a good romp with your dog.

And perhaps you can keep an eye out for places closer to work!
posted by that girl at 5:58 PM on February 15, 2011

This has been sort of brought up, but I also wanted to point out that unless the train is physically uncomfortably crowded (which you've explicitly said will not be the case), I've found there are significant differences between commuting long distances by car vs. by train. If you've never commuted by train, you get to replace foot pedal exhaustion in stop-and-go traffic with reading the newspaper or a book or just not be entirely awake, which, of course, you have to be when you're driving. It's really nice.
posted by andrewesque at 7:37 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

So the question is: Is the extra commute, which is approximately canceled out by less time in the office, a worthwhile trade-off for you? That is, how would you personally rather spend your time, working or commuting?

I'm not sure which I would choose. At my place in life, probably the one with more responsibility at work, which theoretically means better resume fodder and career prospects.

FWIW, a 30 to 45 min commute, if you're driving, varies tremendously in quality depending on where this commute is occurring -- weather is a major pain in the ass that can add a lot of time, and stop-and-go traffic is much more frustrating than driving at a reasonable pace for the same amount of time.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:04 PM on February 15, 2011

If you don't have to drive, AND you're taking public transport when it's not utterly crowded and you have to stand for 45 minutes (cuts your fun there, doesn't it. Is there some way you can do a trial run on the subway at the times you'd be going at to check?), I think the time to read or do podcasts or sitdown hobbies could be quite relaxing. I don't know how much of a natural early riser you are, if cutting an extra hour of sleep will mess you up or not, but if you don't have to put the physical labor into it, it might not be bad.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:46 PM on February 15, 2011

Best answer: Anecdotally, when my commute switched from a 30-45 minute drive to an 80 minute subway/train trip, the amount of total stress in my life dropped by approximately 75%. My day is longer, which kind of sucks, but I don't arrive home with that pent-up feeling like I wanted to murder the next driver I laid my eyes on. I've also started being able to spend serious time reading, which is a good thing. Seriously, even a reverse-direction commute in a city (I live in Boston, work in a suburb) is its own special brand of hell.

Now, given the option to replace an 80-minute train ride with a 5-minute commute of any sort, I'd leap on it. In fact, I'd probably take a major pay cut for it. You don't really get a sense for how much of your life is wasted in commuting until it's Thursday night and you're getting home at 7:00 and the dishes are piled in the sink and you've been out of the house for 12 hours and the last thing you want to do is clean the damned kitchen, and you have to be up early tomorrow to make your train, and life sucks.

I guess what I'm saying here is that if I was considering taking a job that would add 30 minutes to my commute, it would take something like a 20% pay raise for me to even consider it.
posted by Mayor West at 5:25 AM on February 16, 2011

A TED talk on happiness states a shorter commute = more well-being. This bit is towards the end.
The study cited in a New Yorker article on commuting says a hour commute each way is worth 40% more salary.
So I think you're at risk of trading happiness at work for happiness on the way to work, giving yourself no net gain, and possibly a loss.

The study cited distinguishes between car commuting and public transport commuting, with the latter as preferable given you can do things during it. My opinion is that people find ways to make commuting bearable. Try a simple experiment you can do tonight: when you come home from work, stand outside your house for 45 mins. Record how you feel. Repeat the following morning. Record how you feel. Repeat the following day with a displacement activity like reading or knitting or listening to music. The next day come straight home. Compare how you feel in each case. Best of luck.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 6:08 AM on February 16, 2011
Link to the New Yorker article.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 6:09 AM on February 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the excellent advice, all.

Luckily, I was able to negotiate better terms for my current job so making the switch isn't necessary after all. I will continue to enjoy my 5-minute commute for awhile longer!
posted by Pomo at 3:33 PM on March 18, 2011

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