Across the globe, every workday people commute an average of 38 minutes each way, yet surprisingly little research has examined the implications of this daily routine for work-related outcomes. Integrating theories of boundary work, self-control, and work-family conflict, we propose that the commute to work serves as a liminal role transition between home and work roles, prompting employees to engage in boundary management strategies. Across three field studies (N = 1,736), including a four-week-long intervention study, we find that lengthy morning commutes are more aversive for employees with lower trait self-control and greater work-family conflict, leading to decreased job satisfaction and increased turnover. In addition, we find that employees who engage in a specific boundary management strategy we term role-clarifying prospection—i.e., thinking about the upcoming work role—are less likely to be negatively affected by lengthy commutes to work. Results further show that employees with higher levels of trait self-control are more likely to engage in role-clarifying prospection, and employees who experience higher levels of work-family conflict are more likely to benefit from role-clarifying prospection. Although the commute to work is typically seen as an undesirable part of the workday, our theory and results point to the benefits of using it as an opportunity to transition into one’s work role.
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