Commuting to Work Feels Like Unpaid Labor, Should Employers Pay You For It?

It's more exhausting than the job itself.
Photo/s: Shutterstock

Virtual assistant Vladimir Kiev Torres agreed to a viral Facebook post saying commuting for work feels like unpaid overtime, recalling how he lost some four "non-productive hours" every work day to traffic jams.

The 26-year-old echoed the sentiments of 20,000 netizens who reacted mostly "sad" to the post, with some saying commuting to work, where they face long queues and spend hours waiting for a ride, is more tiring than the job itself.

"Wasted time on traffic jam is like underpaid overtime... It is not a responsibility of the employers pero kung gusto nila magbigay, it would be a huge help," Torres told reportr.


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While human resources understands the hardships commuters face daily, employers are not mandated to pay for hours spent on commuting, said HR practitioner and psychologist Jojo Tandoc who shared new normal practices on other ways companies can extend help to their exhausted workers.


In Metro Manila, commuting is exhausting

In 2021, Filipinos lost six days and 13 hours or 157 hours to Metro Manila traffic, according to TomTom Traffic Index. While COVID-19 restrictions like curfews freed up the roads during the pandemic, it's still 43% congested, meaning that an average 30-minute drive will take 13 minutes longer during high traffic in 2021, according to the report. 

Car-centric policies and insufficient public transport worsen commuter struggles, according to a study done by transportation group "Move As One". The "systematic shortage" in mass transportation forces some commuters to turn to expensive Grab or taxi rides or unregulated carpooling as alternatives to get to their destinations.

Torres, who was earning P20,000 a month in his former job in Taguig, said he left Metro Manila for remote work in Sorsogon, where the cost of living is relatively cheaper and times usually lost in metro commute are spent for the family.

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"Lesser income? It's fine. Kasi 'yung unused hours sa NCR, 'pag sa province gamitin mo na lang mag-sideline... Sa NCR pagod ka na, bumababa pa value ng pera mo, 'di mo pa kasama fam mo."

For many, commuting is part of the job

While virtual assistants like Torres can work from home, there are jobs that require physical presence such as factory work, construction, and restaurant services.

When COVID-19 struck in 2020, some businesses provided free shuttle services and hazard pay for onsite workers so they can come to work despite limited transportation options, said Tandoc.

But when pandemic restrictions eased and the government allowed 100% on-site work attendance, some companies stopped offering these so-called risk allowance, said Tandoc. This means hours spent on commute cannot be counted as service rendered as employers are only contractually obligated to pay them for "productive" work hours, just like pre-pandemic times, he said.


"It's part of your contractual obligation as an employee that when you accepted, when you applied for the job, you know for a fact 'yung distance of your residence to your workplace. Therefore you have accepted the fact na you will spend so much time commuting from your place of residence to your workplace," he told reportr.

"It was clarified na hindi magii-start ang paid hours until such time na naging productive na 'yung work hours mo na 'yun."

Companies only shoulder commuting cost for mandatory trainings, if the nature of your work requires traveling (such as drivers and messengers) or if you are traveling on official business, said Tandoc. If you're lucky, some employers still offer transportation allowance for workers who commute or bring their vehicles to work, he said.

What can be done?

Lengthy commutes zap energy, which employees will have to regain after they clock in at work, said Tandoc, who is also an industrial organizational psychologist.


"On a psychological perspective, ang taas ng anxiety level, frustration, and loss of energy or fatigue ng commuters which lessen around two to four hours productive time of the workers," he said.

"This does not affect the job satisfaction of the employee, it affects however the engegement of the employee at work kasi paano mo imo-motivate ang disengaged employee kung nasiraan bus, nasiraan train. Pagpasok n'ya, late na late na siya, pagod na pagod na siya so wala na utak n'ya sa engagement towards work. 'Pag nabawasan ang engangement, nababawasan ang productivity."

While employers don't cover commuting cost, they can come up with differentiated workforce arrangements to help reduce productivity issues which include offering work from home arrangements, flexible working hours, output-based, or relaxed policy on tardiness, said Tandoc. Note that this depends on the nature of the job, he said.

It's time for employers to reconsider old business models to usher in new dynamics to workplace arrangements. "The situation is different now so we have to rethink our business strategies so we can apply a lot of these options para we can reduce cost. We have to invest so much on technology," he said.


Jobseekers, especially graduates fresh out of online classes, are also told to consider the distance first between their residence and workplaces before saying yes to a job offer.

"You have to be very keen on looking at your type of work. Baka on the onset i-establish conditions, work from home ba ito? Puwede ba hybrid ito? Puwede ba output-based? Kung ikaw worker, ang dami ng options na dapat tingnan bago ka mag-sign ng contract mo."

For Torres, employees should rethink where their productivity is best used, and how they can best use their time wisely.

"Sa province, lesser salary pero you can do more side hustle kasi you have more time. Pagod ka man pero you are with your family... Rest is more important than money."

Industrial organizational psychologist and human resources professional Jojo Tandoc is one of GrayMatters Psychological and Consultancy's licensed consultants for organizational development, capacity and culture building, and coaching and mentoring programs. Visit this page for his services.



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