After spending the first decade of my career in the Washington, D.C., area, I thought that a 90-minute one-way commute was pretty much par for the course.
A few years ago, I landed a job that was a significant step up for my career, with more responsibilities and a higher salary than I had ever earned before. The one problem was that it required a nearly 90-minute commute, both ways, to get to the office.
Since my car was unreliable, I worked out a plan to get to the office via three bus legs. This would give me time to relax before starting work and maybe get a little reading done. After a few days of testing various routes, I was able to find a stable routine by catching a bus at 7 a.m., using two transfers to get to work by 8:30, and then heading home via three other bus routes, usually getting home by 7 p.m. It was tiring, I admit — but the job was worth it.
After nearly three months, however, I got the surprise of my life when I was called into the conference room to meet with the HR rep to find out that I was being let go. The vague reasons for termination still baffle me (“not the right fit,” etc.). But with the hindsight of time, I now wonder if my boss had noticed something in my performance that I hadn’t: the physical and mental toll I was paying for spending three hours a day on my commute.
After spending the first decade of my career in the Washington, D.C., area, I thought that a 90-minute one-way commute was pretty much par for the course. Some people in that region drive in from two hours away for coveted federal jobs. But in Seattle, where commutes are closer to the national average of about 28 minutes, I can see now that I was probably asking too much of myself.
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What I was doing was robbing my 40-ish body of the precious time we all need to recharge each night to be ready for the next day. When I look back at my life during those three hectic months, I remember not getting a lot of sleep and spending every spare moment I had reading trade journals related to my new job. Perhaps if I was 25 I could have pulled it off, but I can now sympathize with my former boss if he saw my fatigue and mistook it for a lack of effort.
So is a commute of more than 60 minutes a day a deal-breaker? Not necessarily. If you are a perfect fit for the job, your employer will likely find some way to accommodate you. Here are some tips if you’re faced with a long commute:
Negotiate for flex time. Try to alter your hours to avoid commutes during major rush times. For instance, see if you can come in an hour later and work an hour later.
Telecommute part-time. Set up a high-speed Web connection and work from home one or more days a week.
Ask for compensation. Rather than absorb all the costs of gas and maintenance on your car, try to negotiate some kind of stipend to help pay for your lengthy commute.
Consider moving. This may seem like a drastic solution, especially for those who own a house and/or have kids in school. But sometimes the problem may be that you simply don’t live close enough to where the jobs are in your field. If you are renting and willing to move, let the hiring manager know. This can demonstrate both your flexibility and your willingness to go above and beyond to be part of the team.