My employer (science) has several sites. One is in Cambridge MA, where some colleagues tell me their one-way commute is in excess of an hour. I've even heard that a few colleagues commute up to 2 hrs one-way. Maybe they're able to get some work done if they commute on Amtrak, but I'm guessing not on the subway. At my site, in a smaller town, my commute is less than 15 minutes.

I chose the smaller town, even though, all else being equal, I would have preferred Boston, because I assumed that commute time counts against my personal time which is in short supply. But even then, I had underestimated their commute time, and now I don't understand how they have that much personal time to give up.

I can't help but compare myself to them since we're all salaried PhDs. For example, I wonder if one day I might choose or be asked to transfer to their site. Ignoring whether commuting itself is boring, if I were to transfer, would I be expected to give up 1.5 hrs of my personal time or would I spend 1.5 fewer hours in the office?

Employers often pay a cost-of-living premium for those in expensive locales. Do they also permit a "cost-of-time" premium?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:27
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    Relevant (for having data apropos to rational decisions around commute time): mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/06/the-true-cost-of-commuting Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 0:05
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    Do they also permit a "cost-of-time" premium? One of the most common reasons why people have long commutes is that housing farther from work is more affordable. (I imagine that's what's going on in the case of Cambridge.) Because housing is cheaper, you have extra money in your pocket, which could be thought of as your premium.
    – user14026
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 1:06
  • “My employer (science)” — SCIENCE is my employer! Good phrase to have in reserve in case it ever seems like you’re about to get fired. Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 11:57
  • A one-way, one hour commute time in Boston is probably average (door to door.). I don't think any of the subway lines take 2 hours from the center of the city to the furthest stop. The Commuter Rail (technically not Amtrak), is what they're taking. You could take it all the way to Providence.
    – user8365
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 16:08

9 Answers 9


If I were to transfer, would I be expected to give up 1.5 hrs of my personal time or would I spend 1.5 fewer hours in the office?

Your commute is your personal time.

And how much time you spend in the office is up to you and your employer. I don't know how it works at your company, but I have never heard of an employer who would say something like "Oh, you have a 2 hour commute, therefore you only need to work 6 hours per day, while your coworkers must work 8 hours."

Imagine if it were the other way around. Then your 2-hours-one-way friends would only be in the office for 4 hours? Not likely.

And if you are a salaried PhD, I'm assuming you aren't working to the clock anyway.

In my company, I tell the folks on my team that I expect them to work to get the job done. If that means they can get it done in less than 40 hours, then leave if you want. If that means they need to stay extra, then I expect them to stay extra when they can. But all this also means that it is the work that is the time-driver here, not the commute. Lengthening their commute doesn't mean there is less work to be done.

Employers often pay a cost-of-living premium for those in expensive locales. Do they also permit a "cost-of-time" premium?

No employer that I know of will pay you more because you have chosen to have a longer commute. Perhaps your employer is different.

Employers expect a certain level of work. How we choose to allocate our personal time is up to us, but we cannot expect our employer to fund our choices by requiring us to work less.

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    +1 While the OP mentioned his fears of being asked to move to a different site, implying that he then wouldn't have opted into a long commute, that's probably deserving of its own question. Only thing I'd add is that employers sometimes do provide some perks for staff with long commutes like telecommuting or paying for public transport (depending on country/state/industry) but I've never heard of anyone cutting work hours (without cutting pay).
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 15:59
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    Implied, but not explicitly stated in this answer, is that there's a trust between Joe and his subordinates that he won't assign them more work than they would reasonably be expected to do in those 40 hours, and if they consistently find themselves finishing early, he trusts them to let him know that they need more to do.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:06
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    "No employer that I know of will pay you more because you have chosen to have a longer commute." -- I would just like to add that my current employer does exactly that, so it does happen. We get a bonus that scales linearly with the distance to the office and it's supposed to cover commute costs. While it's not a large impact on the salary, it is also not negligible. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:49
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    @JoeStrazzere: The Netherlands. I assume it's because we have a strong culture of living and working in two different cities. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:53
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    At my last job (in the Netherlands), I had a one hour commute, most of it by train. By default my employer paid the cost of 2nd class public transport to work for everybody. I negotiated that I would travel 1st class with the extra cost split between me and my employer (to be able to work well on a laptop you really need to be in 1st class), and that I could count one leg each day as work time. In the end almost anything is negotiatable at the time you join a new company (if it's not not too big). Probably true in the US as well. Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 8:06

As explained in Joe Strazzere's answer, generally your commute is your own business, and not relevant to your employer. So yes, if you have a long commute, you'll spend more time away from home.

There is one special case: If your employer changes your work location during your employment (assignment to a different branch office, move of main office etc.), they may make some concessions.

However, these concessions will mainly be motivated by not wanting to lose valuable employees, so they will depend on the number and perceived value of the employees concerned. And while there may well be concessions, they will probably not go all the way and completely compensate the additional time spent comuting. More typically, the employer might pay (a part of) the commuting cost (public transport ticket or driving costs), or offer some telecommuting.

That said, even in Germany, a generally employee-friendly jurisdiction, an employee can be terminated if they refuse a longer commute after a move of the company offices. In countries with at-will employment, the employer may decide to terminate employees right away if they refuse a new work location.

  • @JoeStrazzere Relocation assistance/compensation is pretty normal in Northwest Europe. My office moved town doubling my daily commute (30-40 minutes one-way to 60-90 minutes one-way depending on traffic). I was offered the options to work flexible hours and work from home: I work from home early morning, drive to the office after rush-hour has passed. On Thursdays when traffic is worst I work from home all day. In my job at least half of my time spend is working remotely (RDP, SSH) anyway so in my job it doesn't make much difference for productivity. I just need to plan meetings after 10 AM.
    – Tonny
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 19:59
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    "In countries with at-will employment, the employer may decide to terminate these employees right away." They could, but why on Earth would they want to? As long as the employee doesn't mind the commute, why would the company care where they live?
    – reirab
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:00
  • @reirab: "these employees" referred to employees refusing a move. I edited my answer to clarify.
    – sleske
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 8:07

I would argue that in locations with long commutes for everyone or most employees, that there is indeed a "Cost of time" premium on their wages, at least in some cases. While some people are fine with long commutes and either are productive during them or enjoy them as downtime (I relax on my 45 minute commute, for example), others won't appreciate such a long commute, and so wages will end up needing to be higher to bring an equivalent talent pool to the company. Otherwise, with wages equal to competitors but a longer commute, their talent pool will be smaller, and it will be harder to find equally good employees.

This premium will vary significantly by the industry, location, and other details; if this company is the only one in the area in their field, they may not need as much premium - or they may need more, in order to attract out-of-area talent. Who knows. And some industries will be different - sales, for example, your commute isn't all that important if you're going to be mostly going to client sites anyway, and people in high-travel jobs might be more tolerant of longer drives/commutes.

I doubt it's typically a separate entry, though, in most cases. Sometimes it's subsumed by other salary issues - for example, cost-of-time in a major downtown metropolitan area isn't going to be a factor, because people expect to have to come downtown, and competitors will have the same issues.

It's also not the only thing that has a similar impact. Difficulty of commute, in addition to time, is relevant. I chose not to apply to a few jobs during my last search because they weren't reasonably accessible by train; I don't want to drive, and even if I decided I would, I'd have to buy a second car (as my wife has to drive to her job), so it would cost significantly extra - and a potential employer would definitely have to pay me more to get me to change my mind.


The answer is possibly.

No employer I know will ever let you work less time because your commute is longer. That being said, several are willing to work out some kind of "compensation".

Some common compensation may include:

  • higher wages
  • different shifts
  • a travel bonus
  • a company car
  • fuel or travel reimbursement
  • longer breaks (but still the same hours, like a 10 hour day but 2 hours for lunch)
  • Different schedules, for example 4-10s instead of 5-8s
  • Better "intangibles" - For example, our foo office has a game room, and an workout room. It's also next to fine dining, our bar office does/is not.
  • Telecommuting possibilities

However, these need to be discussed with your employer long before you make your decision. To try to add these on after the fact likely will not work. It's also far more likely to see any of these benifits if the employer is asking you to do the commute, rather then you telling the employer that you will be making the commute.

For an example, if an employer comes to you ans says, "Hey we want to transfer you to the foo office." You could say, "Well, that a much longer commute for me, is there anything we can do about that?" Your employer may come back with "Well the foo office has extra company cars, we could let you take one home." They could also say "Not really, but I see your point, would you be open to working 3rd shift, there would be less traffic."

However if you approached them, "Hey I want to work in office foo, is there any kind of compensation for the 2 hour trip I would have to make?" The answer is probably going to be "What's wrong with office bar?"

One last point. Companies that have offices in busy or hard to reach areas are usually well aware of it, and have programs to help mitigate travel issues. Some have direct mass transit access, or deals with local cab companies. Others have skewed hours Like a 11am to 7pm 1st shift to miss rush hour. Others do not. It's all part of the decision on where to work.

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    No, but if your employer asked you to drive an extra two hours, they may give you one. Specially if they really want you in the new office for some reason (to train others, or handle a specific project/client).
    – coteyr
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:19

As others have noted, the answer is generally, "your commute time comes from your personal time". I won't repeat what others have said.

You can always ask for some sort of concession, but I think few companies would agree to let you work shorter hours.

Every job has its pros and cons, and you should consider them all when deciding what job to take. Pay and benefits are the obvious ones people always talk about. Most people realize that they should consider how much they like the work. But there are a million other factors that could make a job great or terrible, from how well you get along with co-workers to how comfortable your office chair is. You should certainly consider commute time when picking a job. I've spent most of my career working in jobs that are NOT in a big city, precisely because I don't want to lose a lot of my free time to a long commute.

As to how people do it ... It depends on what your priorities are. Most of us spend at least a few hours a day sitting around doing nothing, watching TV, etc. You can sit on a bus or train doing nothing instead of on your sofa. Or you give up hobbies. If you like the job enough or you need the money, you might consider it a fair trade. Or not.

BTW When I've had jobs with long commutes, I've always had the thought that I would get books on CD and listen to them in the car (today I guess it would be MP3, whatever), or read or work on the bus, etc. In practice, I never managed to do that. I just couldn't listen to a book while trying to drive in traffic, etc. Maybe if you had the right mindset and the right kind of commute it would work.

  • I have been able to read on trains and local busses, snd I can listen to audiobooks in the car; individual variation and some amount of self-training. (Reading print on intercity busses upsets my stomach.)
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 17:53
  • @JoeStrazzere: I wouldn't try to do it officially. I might consider some of it as flextime, but since efficiency while in transit is limited I wouldn't count more than a fraction of it even so, I wouldn't take that time while we we were under pressure, and I'd check with Manglement first. Besides, mostly I was using that time to read for pleasure, unless there was a crisis in progress... and crises often involve docs I wouldn't open in public anyway.
    – keshlam
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 20:25

I found it hard to believe this never came up in the other answers:

Your employer isn't responsible for your commute time unless they force you to change between two relatively nearby offices (i.e. You have an office in Cambridge and Woburn, you live and work near the Woburn office, but suddenly they make you switch to the Cambridge office).

In this situation (where it sounds like you have a choice) it's completely up to you where you want to work, but it's not your employer's problem that you don't want to move closer.

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    If a company moves a considerable distance, then it is their problem if anyone who is good enough to get a job elsewhere leaves.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 1:26
  • That doesn't sound like the situation here... Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 13:59
  • At most they'd probably help you relocate near the new office but I never heard of commute help outside of helping with public transportation (train, bus, etc) or garage fees.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 17:24

The decision where to live is entirely up to an employee. Nothing requires your Cambridge colleagues to live up to 2 hours away from the office. People who choose to live far away from work (and have very long commutes) usually say that they can't afford to live closer or just don't like the closer places. It's still their choice even if affordability is an issue - someone could rent a housing closer to the office, it just would be smaller. Many young professionals in expensive places, such as New York City, share apartments with roommates. This gives them an opportunity to have a short commute. So the long commutes are by choice. If your employer were to ask you to work from the Cambridge office, you also would have a choice how far away you want to live. It is none of the employer's business. You would still have to do the same amount of work.


If you're asked to change sites, perhaps you can talk about the long commute and perhaps ask for a relocation help. I don't think any company would help with commute (maybe go as far as offer discount on public transportation or garage fees) but a lot of companies would help with relocation if you ask or talk about it.


I used to work for a large employer with offices in Boston and southern NH (where I live).

The Boston employees worked a 37.5 hour week. The NH employees were expected to work a 40 hour week. When we asked HR about it we never seemed to get a straight answer beyond "that's the way it is."

In downtown Boston the norm seems to be 37.5 hours. I don't know about Cambridge. You may want to ask, but that's most likely the only concession you'll get.

If you have to transfer, you can ask for more money or perhaps PTO before taking the assignment or find another job.

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