Is the commute worth it?
September 8, 2014 11:19 PM   Subscribe

My boss is asking me to take on a long commute for no additional compensation. Is this reasonable? Snowflakes inside!

I live about 60 miles from my company office and have been working for them for about a year and a half. For that time I’ve been doing almost all local work (within 20 miles of where I live) and traveling to the office maybe once or twice per month. The local work has dried up temporarily, and now my boss wants me in the office full time until things kick in again. The commute is 3 hours round trip (ugh traffic) and the company cannot/will not pay my travel expenses or put me up in a motel. I make about $30k/year, and it’s project-to-project work (i.e. very precarious) and don’t have any benefits.

If I agree to this commute, I’ll spend 25-50% of my take home pay on gas and/or motel rooms, plus meals on the road. I’m OK with taking on the travel costs to the office a few times per month in order to stay in the loop, but this will be full time Monday-Friday for the foreseeable future. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a couple of months. They can’t offer me more in terms of wages or benefits, so moving away from friends, family, and my significant other to be closer to the office isn’t a very attractive option. (Plus the local work should return at some point.)

I voiced these concerns to my boss, and the answer was pretty matter-of-fact. Basically there’s full time work in the office and only part-to-full-time work where I’m living, and I’m not going to be getting any help with defraying my commute costs. The boss wants me in the office on the regular, but seemingly would understand if I can’t afford to do it.

So the question is: should I eat these costs in order to keep working full time, or do I stay home and not work until the next local project comes along?

Mitigating factors:
- I’m new to the field, this is my first real job in this industry. Although it’s been over a year, I’m still learning the ropes and willing to take a loss in return for experience. However, the work I’ll be doing will be mostly routine functions that I’m already trained up on.
- This company has done a lot to train me, and I really like working for them. It’s clear that they want to keep me busy and on board.
- There are other similar companies in the area, but I have less of a chance at full time work if I switch to a new company.
- I’m living with relatives right now and not paying rent.

Concerns:
- I don’t want to set a precedent that I’ll happily eat whatever expenses the company decides to put on me.
- I’ve seen the company lose contracts and have to lay people off, so even “guaranteed” full time office work doesn’t look like a sure thing.
- Although I’m not paying rent at the moment, I’ll be getting a place in the next couple months and will probably have to spend ~40% of my income on rent. And in the meantime I really want to put that money towards saving for grad school...
- I don’t want to be unnecessarily away from my SO and my elderly relatives that need caring for.
- If I'll be making the same amount of money, I'd rather be working part time locally than working full time with a long, expensive commute.
posted by cosmologinaut to Work & Money (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm also going to assume that, for some reason, you can't do this job remotely. Because almost every job can be done via telecommuting these days thanks to the wonder that is the internet. If not, you need to negotiate remote working. Otherwise...

Since you live with family and don't pay rent, you can afford to have no job, right? I'd keep that in mind. You may possibly be able to qualify for unemployment benefits, depending on your state, because this commute may be deemed far enough to be relocating the job. You can delay your plans to move out if you need to. I was very excited to move out when I was young, but I put it off a year longer than I wanted to because my career was unstable and based on contract work. In my case, it worked out -- I moved to a new city (a real city, a big city, a cool city) because I found a permanent, non-contract job. It did take a little time, but it was worth not being held down.

I know people that have made commutes this long (even slightly longer) five days a week. Personally, I could not do that. But for whatever reason, they felt it was worth it for them and they got through it. I would think about: Can you advance in this company someday in the not-too-distant future? Will your earning potential grow? Are you learning anything new? Do you have a long enough stint with them on your resume to job hunt? Are you building strong references? Will the references still be positive if you opt not to do the long-distance work? How soon will the local work return? Can you opt out of the long-distance work and return once the local work starts? Can you bear that commute five days a week?

I'd start looking for other jobs. This one isn't ideal. See what's out there. See if there's a better option. Better can mean more money, shorter commute, better experience, more stability, etc. You can start doing the commuting job while you continue to search for something better (although your three-hour commute will suck up a lot of time). Maybe you could negotiate it down to 3 or 4 days a week -- maybe work a little more each day. It sounds like this is not a long-term solution for you anyway because this will always be around the corner as a possibility -- there will always be the threat of the local work drying up or contracts ending. So you maybe like this company, but unless you get a permanent job and move to where they are located, this will continually be a problem, right?
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:38 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


This company has done a lot to train me

While it's nice to recognize this, it was for their benefit, not yours. It implies no obligation on your part to work in a situation that you wouldn't otherwise.

I don’t want to set a precedent that I’ll happily eat whatever expenses the company decides to put on me.

Precedent is meaningless. Doing it once doesn't obligate you to repeat the performance. The next situation will be different.

If I'll be making the same amount of money, I'd rather be working part time locally than working full time with a long, expensive commute.

This is exactly the sort of calculation that should decide the issue: Is it worth it to you? For my part, I've always hated commuting, and war stories about years doing long commutes always had the opposite effect on me of wanting even less commute. I don't know anyone who likes it, only people who decided to bear it for some reason.

One aspect of the situation you describe is that it's volatile in terms of expected work. That says to me that it's worth no great sacrifice from you because future benefits from sticking it out are risky at best, which cuts their value. Unless you need to keep the job, I'd arrange to stay home, either part-time or with another employer.
posted by fatbird at 11:42 PM on September 8, 2014 [9 favorites]


Any people you can carpool with? Perhaps there are other people in your area making the same commute (but maybe not at your employer). Craigslist, fliers in laundromats/community centers, etc.

I'd do the commute for as long as reasonable, but start looking for another job immediately. Even if it's not in your field, it just has to be better than $22.5k to make sense.
posted by sbutler at 11:43 PM on September 8, 2014


I would personally work locally and/or explore those options,and I think that many people have (and will) give you great answers for that part of the question.

I'm mainly dropping in for this part of your description and as to why you are trying to save money:

And in the meantime I really want to put that money towards saving for grad school...

I did not realize this myself until I started doing research into grad schools, grad school programs,etc., many years ago. I wish that I had looked into it earlier vs. a yr before applying to grad programs.

Look into how much financial support the various graduate programs provide, including what proportion of students get these benefits and how much of the tuition (or even if it is more than tuition) is covered. So as an example, I found out that most public health degrees would offer partial tuition with research/teaching assistantships, but not the entire tuition bill or cost of living expenses(and most of the tuition for these universities was monster sized). Conversely, degrees in a related field offered almost all students full tuition plus basic living expenses for 5 to 6 years (the equivalent time needed for that particular degree).So I guess what I am trying to suggest is do the research into whether your field or related fields would provide this benefit and you might not need to save as much as you think that you do.

Apologies if you have already thought about this - but I didn't, and I wish that I had known this a few years earlier. If you have not thought about this variable in this way, it might make a difference as to whether you need to commute for a small amount of money vs. staying local.
posted by Wolfster at 12:15 AM on September 9, 2014


Well, you definitely have this internet stranger's permission not to take on a daily 3hr commute for net zero to epsilon dollars.

It sounds like your boss would be okay (just not thrilled) with you staying part time to only take on the work near you. You sound like you would be much happier with that than going full time in the office with the crazy commute.
posted by ktkt at 2:14 AM on September 9, 2014


If you really don't want to do this, then yes, finding another job closer to home is the answer.

But it sounds like this is one way your boss is trying to avoid losing you to a layoff: local work has dried up, and it appears they came up with this plan to keep you on the payroll until things improve. Maybe you can work out a compromise: could you work four ten-hour days a week instead of five eight-hour days?
posted by easily confused at 2:29 AM on September 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's not your bosses problem where you live or how you get to work. This really is your problem to solve. So either commute (which, yes, you pay for), move, go part time, quit, and/or find a new job. Things like car pooling, telecommuting, or working longer hours/less days are all good ways to make the commute more bearable but your employer doesn't have to help if they don't want to. I get that they are pretty crappy options but this is how it works.
posted by shelleycat at 4:31 AM on September 9, 2014 [12 favorites]


I don’t want to set a precedent that I’ll happily eat whatever expenses the company decides to put on me.

You need to do a calculation about whether this is worth it to you or not, but the framing of your question makes it seem as if this is a strange thing for a company to ask of you. As far as I can tell from your description, it isn't. The company isn't asking you to "eat" an expense, they're telling you that your job is in the office, and if you want it that's where you need to be. Literally every office job I've ever had has said this. Work doesn't care if I live in the dumpster behind the office, or in a palace across the country, they only care that I get to work on time.

I mention all this because you seem to be weighing whether this a reasonable request that you should accede to, rather than whether it's worth it to have this job at this company given these conditions. I think the former is a red herring, and more about the nature of work than about this company.
posted by OmieWise at 4:54 AM on September 9, 2014 [12 favorites]


It doesn't seem to me that the salary you are getting justifies the time and cost of commuting that far. I've been doing it for almost 10 years now, although most of that is on a train so slightly less sucky than driving. It's OK for a while and there are minor benefits such as time to decompress from the work day before getting home (not if you're driving though!). I'm starting to really hate it, though - it has gone from being valuable 'alone time' to feeling, when I get off the train, like my life has been paused for an hour while the rest of the world has kept going. Effectively, my commute has gone from something I use to shift from work to home mode to something I need to decompress from.

I am coming to hate the commute enough that I've applied for a job with the same organisation that isn't really what I want to do, but means I can work from home for a couple of days a week.

In short, it might be worth doing the commute for a while (maybe 6 months), but it really sucks as a long-term thing. If you feel some loyalty to the company or think things will turn around after a while, put a time limit on the commute with your boss and make it clear that you won't be doing it forever.
posted by dg at 5:08 AM on September 9, 2014


My wife just went through this. Her office 13 miles from home is shutting down 10/1, and the company offered her the same job in the city, 50 miles from our house. She decided to take the job and negotiated a small raise, basically enough to cover commuting costs. I was against it because I don't think she makes enough to commute 3-4 hours roundtrip each day. I do it, but I'm making 2-3X what she does.

Can you find a carpool into the city? We are lucky in that there is a very unique opportunity to hitchhike to and from work, so financially the commute isn't costing us much, and since we aren't driving we can sleep or read or whatever. If I had to drive it everyday I simply could not do it.

That said, now that we are both working downtown we are giving serious thought to moving in closer.
posted by COD at 5:09 AM on September 9, 2014


It's not your company's job to manage your commute. You're choosing to not live near the office - your place of employment. That's your call. It's not up to your company to tell you where to live, just where the work is.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:23 AM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well others are right in that your workplace does not have to accomdate you by reducing commuting, but to answer your question by no means is this proposed set up worth it for you.

You don't even have benefits? Honestly you'd do better to work in a fast food restaraunt you can walk to and get into a management role within a year. I think this job is taking advantage of your youth and inexperience and hoping you'll keep the job for some perceived prestige over a McJob.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:49 AM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Without the commute, the job was barely worth it; with the commute, it's totally not. If they don't have full-time work for you to do near your home, they're obviously not going to keep you on their payroll. Their request is reasonable for them to make, and it's also reasonable for you to turn down.

If I were you I'd see if you can continue working part-time near home and very actively look for a new job.
posted by mskyle at 6:27 AM on September 9, 2014


I did a two-hour/93-mile round-trip commute (all rural highway dotted with a ton of little 30-mph towns) for four months, and it was absolutely not worth it. I needed oil changes every month and a half, was spending $250+ a month on gas, and put a ton of wear and tear (brakes, tires, that weird rattling noise I still need to get checked out) on my vehicle. That put my $40K salary down to $35K (at least), not including benefits (401K, stock, insurance). Not to mention the toll it took on me mentally and physically--I ended up hating the job, largely because I had no time at home and would often get home just in time to shower, walk the dog, and go to bed, so I could get 5.5 hours of sleep before going back into work. It was exhausting. I would never do it again, and especially not for a 30K-maybe-a-year job with no benefits. Don't pay to work. The terms of your job have changed, and if they don't work for you, then you look elsewhere for something that does work for you.
posted by coast99 at 6:49 AM on September 9, 2014


Commutes are commonly underrated as to just how much they can lower your satisfaction of life. One of the best things you can do to raise your well being is to have a short commute. If you are going to be spending so much on a commute anyway, why not go part time? You could use the extra time to find a closer job.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:20 AM on September 9, 2014


I’m new to the field, this is my first real job in this industry. Although it’s been over a year, I’m still learning the ropes and willing to take a loss in return for experience. However, the work I’ll be doing will be mostly routine functions that I’m already trained up on.

If you're changing careers or just starting out, it might be better to stay for a while longer to more firmly establish yourself in the role and field (while looking for field-related jobs nearer you). You may be trained on those routine functions, but doing them day-to-day, face-to-face with others will be different -- there are things that happen in the office that you may not know about. You may luck into more responsibilities, just because you're around and they're seeing your face. Cultivating relationships is important, too, and being there will help with that.

You could sublet a room (not apartment) in a place close to your work to stay just during the work-week, that might be cheaper than motels and gas.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:13 AM on September 9, 2014


I'd suck it up and drive in, as others have pointed out, the company doesn't owe you and easy commute, and they have the right to request that you come into the office.

Now, while I was making that drive, I'd be moving heaven and earth to find a job close to home. Then, when I was offered said job, I'd take it.

It's easier to get a job while you're employed than if you're not.

Who knows, there may be a project in your nect of the woods within a few weeks, and you're back in business, but either way, there's a paycheck coming in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:05 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the answers, folks! It's really helpful to hear this wider perspective. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but y’all are definitely helping me think things through. FWIW, I’m also talking to colleagues in my field for their advice.

I'll respond to a couple things, for those who are still interested…

shelleycat: It's not your bosses problem where you live or how you get to work. This really is your problem to solve.

NotMyselfRightNow: It's not your company's job to manage your commute. You're choosing to not live near the office - your place of employment. That's your call. It's not up to your company to tell you where to live, just where the work is.

This is the main tension here, I think. Until recently the company has been very happy to have me live where I live because I’ve been local to projects that would have incurred expenses for travel from the far-away office. So it feels like they want me to be local to wherever the work happens to be, which can change on a weekly or monthly basis, and now I'm looking at a commute that I never agreed to. It seems to me that with project location being such a moving target, travel costs should be my boss’s problem — even if the “travel” is just to the office. You’re all right that the long-term solution is to move near the office if I want to stay with this company, but that’s easier said than done on short notice.
posted by cosmologinaut at 7:05 PM on September 9, 2014


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