Fall 2019

Stuck in traffic

The Carlson School’s Betty Zhou in front of  I-35W in Minneapolis—one of the Twin Cities’ worst rush hour bottlenecks.
Photography by HANNAH PIETRICK

For many people, the most challenging part of their workday isn’t their job. It’s the commute. The average American spends about an hour getting to and from work; some spend two hours or more. And the psychological toll it takes doesn’t end once the commute is over. 

Betty Zhou, an assistant professor at the U’s Carlson School of Management, studies the effect of commutes. She says stressful commutes lead to decreased focus and job performance. And if other life events are happening at the same time, such as a sick child, the impact is worse yet. 

“This has significant implications for employers,” Zhou says. She encourages businesses to offer ways for employees to offset the stress of commutes, including breaks during the day, flexible schedules, and the ability to telecommute at least one day a week. 

In 2018, Zhou was named a Lawrence Fellow, which enables her to further pursue her research interests. The next phase of her work includes reaching out to experts in public policy. 

“Public transportation agencies play a critical role in improving the commuting experience,” she says.