The daily commute as an element of job satisfaction (or lack thereof)

Do you factor in a daily commuting experience as part of your overall job satisfaction? If you don’t, then maybe you should.

Shana Lebowitz writes for Business Insider on “how most of us underestimate just how miserable commuting can make us.” She cites research published in the Harvard Business Review:

That’s according to a team of researchers writing in The Harvard Business Review. They cite multiple studies that suggest commuting can be more stressful than actually working, and that the longer your commute, the less satisfied you may be with your job and with life in general.

Her conclusion? “Reduce your commute. As in, move closer to your office or find a job closer to your home.”

Urban commuter here

My commuting-to-work experiences have been exclusively by city subways. (I haven’t owned a car since 1982!) I’m more than willing to exchange suburban home space for the experience of city living.

After graduating from law school, for years I made weekday subway trips from Park Slope, Brooklyn to lower Manhattan. My love affair with New York was still in full flower, so I dealt with the frustrations, delays, and packed subway cars with (somewhat) stoic patience. The average door-to-door commuting time was 40-50 minutes, but it often felt much longer because of the miserable rush hour experience. When I look back at those years, I’m surprised there weren’t more displays of maniacal acting out by otherwise mature, sensible people!

For the past fourteen years, I’ve been doing subway trips from Jamaica Plain, Boston, to downtown Boston, where my university is located. The average commuting time is about 30-40 minutes, made much easier by the fact that a flexible work schedule allows me to largely avoid rush hour traveling. The biggest difference between this and my NYC subway experience is that I can usually get a seat on the train, which for me translates into opportunities to read a book, magazine, or newspaper.

Economic class impacts

However, I’m also cognizant of the fact that I’ve had some choices in this regard. In Greater Boston, for example, housing costs have driven more and more people into outer ring suburbs and beyond. Their lengthier commutes are often imposed upon them. Similar patterns are evident in other popular metro areas as well.

Of course, others choose to live in suburban areas, even if it means a longer work commute. Personally, I can’t understand the appeal of suburban living, but many of my friends feel completely the opposite way! In any event, smoother commutes — whether by car or by train — would be good for everyone. If we use this research data to inform how we can improve the quality of lives overall, then we should invest in transportation systems that ease commuting experiences to and from urban centers.

Spring break in Boston

Back Bay neighborhood, Boston

At my university we’re observing that annual academic ritual known as spring break, but Mother Nature has decided not to cooperate with the “spring” part here in Boston and along the east coast. We’re experiencing a major winter storm, and the snow is coming down heavy and wet as I write. It looks like we’ll be dealing with quite an accumulation before it’s over.

I had planned to go into my office today to get some work done, but I’ve decided it will be just as easy to work on stuff at home. Today’s (and perhaps tomorrow’s) tasks are to write a foreword for a colleague’s forthcoming book and a project report. While I might have fewer distractions in the office, I like the idea of being hunkered down at home as the snow continues to fall.

Jamaica Plain neighborhood, Boston

With no classes this week because of the break, I don’t have to worry about rescheduling snowed-out class sessions. Instead, I can once again appreciate the convenience and flexibility of being able to work from virtually any location where I can turn on my computer and access the Internet.

I count myself especially fortunate to be back home today, as this appeared to be a questionable proposition during a weekend visit with friends in northern Virginia, right outside of Washington D.C. As the winter storm forecast became more dire, my prospects for flying out of Dulles airport last night started to look a tad iffy. As luck would have it, I was on one of the last flights to land at Boston’s Logan airport, per the JetBlue arrivals board below.

Monday night JetBlue arrivals board, Logan Airport, Boston

“First World” ethics of the Amtrak Quiet Car

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Dear readers, here’s a little “First World” ethical topic for you: Personal behavior while riding in the Amtrak Quiet Car. The Quiet Car has become an interesting laboratory for observing (1) whether seemingly advantaged adults will obey the simplest of rules and (2) what happens when those rules are broken.

The Quiet Car is designated for passengers who want a quiet, library-like atmosphere, with minimal conversations limited to whispers, no cell phone usage, and no loud gadgets or music. At the beginning of the trip, and at each major boarding stop, Amtrak conductors announce this information over the public address system. It can be hilarious to hear the slightly sarcastic inflections in their voices when they give this spiel, reflecting obvious weariness over mediating disputes between passengers who have, shall we say, different understandings of Quiet Car etiquette.

You see, on any given trip, at least a couple of passengers will behave as if the Quiet Car exists to provide them with a quiet place to conduct their cellphone calls or to chat with a traveling companion. Lest anyone assume that the transgressors are over-gadgeted Millennials, let me clarify: In my years of observation, middle-aged adults in business attire are the more likely culprits.

Several weeks ago I was riding in the Quiet Car on a trip from Boston to New York. For the first 20 minutes, a well-dressed couple who appeared to be in their 50s kept up a loud, ongoing conversation in the row right behind me. I could hear them easily even as I listened to music using earbuds. I finally turned around and asked if they could keep it down. While I think that I was fairly restrained, they nevertheless looked at me with annoyance. They didn’t stop their conversation, but they managed to lower it to a whisper.

Over the years I’ve wondered about the people who so breezily ignore these clearly articulated rules of courtesy. True, the violations are minor or trivial in the grand scheme of things. But are the loud ones in the Quiet Car more likely to break the rules (quietly, of course) in business and public life? Do these same folks believe that they’re “special” when it comes to applying more significant ethical and legal standards?

Class, please discuss.

Road tripping

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I understand if readers are wondering if I’ve turned this blog into a travelogue of sorts! Two weeks ago, I explained that I was spending several weeks as a visiting scholar at Valparaiso University in Indiana, my undergraduate alma mater. The main purpose of my visit was to work on a book project on workplace bullying and mobbing, and I’m happy to report that it was a productive time. I also got to catch up with friends and family in northwest Indiana. Overall it was a great visit.

On Thursday, I hop on a plane once more for a therapeutic jurisprudence workshop at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. There I’ll be joining a group of law professors and lawyers to discuss how we can create laws and legal systems that are more invested in psychological health and well-being. We’ll be sharing, among other things, ongoing plans to launch an international non-profit organization dedicated to mainstreaming a therapeutic jurisprudence perspective in our legal institutions.

All of which is leaving me a bit short on posting longer commentaries here, but suffice it to say that the work grabbing my attention is all good stuff. 

Work-related travel can expand horizons

The Idaho Law and Justice Center (photo: DY)

The Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center, Boise (photo: DY)

On Saturday night I returned from an excellent conference on equality in employment, organized and hosted by the student editors of the Idaho Law Review at the University of Idaho College of Law in Boise. As I wrote last week, I was heading out there to talk about the exploitative aspects of unpaid internships. I also was looking forward to learning more about the work of fellow presenters.

This was a splendid gathering. The panel discussions were interesting and informative, and the conference was organized in a way that provided time for informal conversations in between panels and during meals. (As regular readers of this blog are aware, I’m a big fan of smaller conferences that allow chances for genuine interaction, and this one fit the bill.) I am especially grateful to Idaho Law Review Symposium Editors Molly Mitchell and Ingrid Batey, Professor John Rumel, and Dean Mark Adams for being such warm hosts and for making the event such a stimulating and educational experience.

WPA mural inside Law and Justice Center (photo: DY)

One of the beautiful WPA murals inside the Learning Center (photo: DY)

This all-too-brief visit reminded me of how even work-related travel can expand our cultural horizons. As many of the east coast visitors (including me) observed, this was our first visit to Boise. It was a wonderful chance to discover this charming city and to learn more about the legal profession and legal education in Idaho. The conference was held in the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center in downtown Boise, an historic old building with an interior featuring vintage Works Progress Administration murals. The downtown area is home to a lot of great architecture, with a very nice selection of shops and eateries, as well as the State Capitol building and other governmental entities. It’s a cool city that I’d be delighted to visit again.

Idaho Law is the only game in town for those seeking a legal education within the state, giving its students a near monopoly on legal internships and part-time jobs. It’s no surprise, then, that Idaho alums play leading roles in the state’s legal, business, and public sectors. For those of us used to bigger cities with multiple law schools competing for attention and access to jobs, it was very interesting to see how this law school plays such a central, hub role for the state’s legal community.

Sharing a humongous apple pancake with Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie

Sharing a humongous apple pancake with Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie

My Idaho visit also allowed me to enjoy a hearty pre-flight breakfast and conversation with long-time friends and colleagues Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute. Gary and Ruth moved from Washington State to Boise last year to be closer to family. Our meal at a local pancake house not only was gastronomically superb, but also gave us a chance to catch up in person and to do some planning. It was a real treat to see them and left me with even more ideas to contemplate on the ride home.

On being a globally oriented citizen

In my more self-deluded moments, I like to think of myself as being something of a “global citizen.” After all, I do some international travel, engage in work that has some transnational relevance, donate to global charities, and gratefully have friends in and from many different countries. Hey, I even subscribe to the Guardian Weekly and the Economist!

In reality, however, I’m yet another professor whose travel experiences, work, and network of friends have international dimensions. I’m just as likely to check on the fortunes of my fantasy baseball teams as I am to click to news stories of key developments in other parts of the world.

By contrast, I know a good number of people whom I count as genuine global citizens. Whether they travel around the world or not, they have a genuine international orientation that gives them a broader perspective on this planet we inhabit. Some, like my friends and colleagues connected with the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network, devote significant energies toward furthering peace, social justice, and humanitarian initiatives around the world.

How can we become more globally oriented citizens? This question has been crossing my mind frequently during the past year, especially in the wake of terrorist attacks around the world. Many of us should embrace a broader worldview, thus contributing to a more informed citizenry as a result. Sure, we can attend to our own little corners of the planet, but let’s also look at the world beyond our immediate surroundings.

This could be as simple as paying closer attention to news developments from around the world. It may mean bringing a more inclusive spirit to our lives, one that celebrates variety and diversity and naturally builds bonds with people from other cultures. At its most challenging levels, it can involve trying to understand and address the seemingly intractable differences that are causing so much strife today. For as President Kennedy said in his compelling 1963 speech on the urgent need to curb the nuclear arms race:

And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

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