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The worst part of the job for many people is the commute.

So it's fitting that three business professors and two of their graduate students recently took a detailed look at that aspect of work in the Harvard Business Review. "Research, including our own studies, suggests that small tweaks can improve your commuting experience, leaving you happier and more productive," Francesca Gino, Bradley Staats, Jon Jachimowicz, Julia Lee, and Jochen Menges write. They offer five strategies to consider:

  • Use the time to shift your mindset: The commute affords you the opportunity to shift from personal to professional mode. Rituals can help: One study shows those who developed small routines on the way to work – such as checking the news on the train or having a look at the calendar for the day – felt more excited about the day ahead, more satisfied with their jobs and less stressed than individuals with no set routine. Buying a latte from the same coffee shop may even do the trick.
  • Prepare to be productive: Their research with British and American workers found that when you spend some of your trip planning for the day or the week ahead you arrive at work better prepared and therefore happier, more energetic and more productive. “Simply ask yourself: What steps can I take today and during this week to accomplish my work and career goals? How can I be more productive?” they advise.
  • Find your “pockets of freedom”: Usually the commute feels out of control but they suggest focusing on what you can control. Think also about activities you enjoy – such as listening to music or podcasts or reading books – that you can fit into your trip. You might even use the time as a chance to learn a new skill – knitting or a foreign language, for example. “This advice is supported by research that shows a correlation between higher levels of autonomy and greater well-being, satisfaction, and productivity and lower levels of stress,” they note. “So try to tune out the negatives of commuting and concentrate on the opportunity to express yourself and recharge.”
  • Share the spirit: Commuting can be lonely if you drive by yourself or sit in an isolated cocoon on public transit. Robert Putnam, the Harvard scholar renowned for his book on growing social isolation, Bowling Alone, found that for each extra 10-minute period individuals spent commuting they had 10-per-cent fewer social connections, leading to unhappiness. Interestingly, research by Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder found that talking to strangers can improve well-being for commuters. So reach out to those around you and chat, or use social media. If you’re driving, call a friend on your speaker phone or try to find a commuting pal to travel with.
  • Reduce your commute: Consider living closer to your work. However, that’s not something most people will do. The researchers tested this notion and found 84 per cent of participants in a study would sacrifice one hour a day to commuting – nearly 250 hours a year – for just $3,000 extra in pay. “Their responses simply reflected an inability to fully appreciate the psychological, emotional, and physical costs of longer travel times. If you’re considering a new job or looking for a new apartment or house, we encourage you to resist this bias. Carefully consider the downsides of a long commute before committing yourself to one,” they suggest.

More generally, think about your commute, its consequences on your life and the five changes they suggest.

Prepare for Generation Z

With all the fuss about millennials in the workplace, little attention is being paid to the fact their successors, know as Generation Z or post-millennials, are now entering the workforce.

Generations expert David Stillman says on the SHRM Network that they won't be looking for the same thing millennials were when they started out. Millennials wanted to find meaning and make the world a better place. But Gen Z came of age in the recession of the past decade and seem to be placing money and job security at the top of their job priorities.

His son Jonah, a Z-er, adds: "We have our own unique events and conditions that have shaped us, including our parents. Where millennials were raised by self-esteem building, optimistic boomers, we were raised by tough-love, skeptical Xers. At a young age, we were told by our Xer parents that there are winners and losers, and that more often than not, you lose. In addition, we grew up during the Great Recession, so we're pragmatic, independent, and in survival mode when it comes to looking at our future careers. We're also the first true digital natives."

On that score, David says it is assumed those digital natives prefer texting or using a social-media platform for communicating. But a national study his firm conducted found 84 per cent of Gen Z consider face-to-face their preferred mode of communication. That finding also surprised his son, but the younger Stillman was fascinated by another finding: 61 per cent of Gen Z said they would stay at a company for more than 10 years.

"We are looking for stability and opportunities to advance and are willing to stick around if we can find it. However, we won't be motivated if those opportunities to get ahead are based on how long you've been in a job. That will make no sense to Gen Z. In our eyes, it should strictly be based on performance regardless if you've been there three weeks or three years," he says.

Making heart-based decisions

For making decisions, we have a number of "head-based" tools, such as listing pros and cons, considering the cost-benefit ratio, studying risk-reward and inviting constructive dissent. But if you want to explore how the heart feels, here are 10 questions trainer Dan Rockwell suggests:

  • What does courage/confidence tell you to do?
  • What does humility tell you to do?
  • What does integrity/honesty/openness tell you to do?
  • What does flexibility/agility tell you to do?
  • What does perseverance tell you to do?
  • What does compassion/kindness tell you to do?
  • What does decisiveness tell you to do?
  • What does respect for others tell you to do?
  • What does passion tell you to do?
  • What does seeking the best interests of others tell you to do?

Quick hits

  • Walking up the stairs for 10 minutes beats a cup of coffee for increasing energy and motivation, research shows.
  • When you have to speak spontaneously before a group, communications adviser Stephanie Scotti recommends quickly asking yourself these three questions to organize your thoughts: What point must I convey? How can I support it? How do I need to say it?
  • Consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner says if you are struggling with time it could be because you are avoiding closure by finding one more thing to do and not being willing to bring the project in for a landing.
  • Not sure what to focus on? Ask your manager, suggests Kieran Snyder, CEO of Textio, a recruiting service. She used to bring a list of everything she was working on to her weekly meeting with her boss and ask: If I have five things on my to-do list but can only do three of them well in the time I’ve got, which three should they be?
  • Famed CEO counsellor Ram Charan asks the top bosses if they’re hearing a lot of bad news. He tells them every company has a lot of bad news and, if they aren’t hearing it, something’s wrong.

Mark Mortensen of INSEAD discusses his findings about teamwork and how knowing what teams others are on can improve workflow

Special to Globe and Mail Update