Workplace Doctor: Commute from Abu Dhabi to Dubai or relocate?

Abu Dhabi resident offered a job in Dubai is unsure whether to relocate his family or endure the daily commute between the two emirates.

Traffic builds up on the Sheikh Zayed Road, the main commuter road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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I live in Abu Dhabi but have been offered a good position in Dubai. My question is should I commute or uproot the entire family to Dubai? My children are in good schools and it seems unfair to relocate everyone. On the other hand, travelling up to three hours a day may not be healthy for me. What do you suggest? OS, Abu Dhabi

This is a topic I hear a lot of people pondering when considering a career change. It is not as simple as whether it is a good opportunity career-wise, but also what effect this will have on your life and that of your family. When I relocated from the UK to the UAE with no dependents, the decision-making process was straightforward. But with a family to consider, big choices like this need to be well thought through

I’m assuming that you plan to take the position. If you were unsure whether the role was suitable for you, then I always say to people work that out first and then worry about the other factors. It seems you have already crossed that bridge and are considering what will make more sense in the long run.

As you say, you have two options: the first is taking your kids out of school and relocating everyone. The second is for you to commute three hours a day. Between my colleagues and I, we spend about 40 per cent of our working week driving between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, because of our clients’ location.

It is a common practice in the UAE and you can tell by the volume of traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road that the daily commute between emirates is a fact of life for many residents. While it is a long and sometimes stressful journey, many say they have become used to it and deem it worth the compromise to live in their preferred emirate. One colleague has even tried to gain some benefit from the time spent in his car by learning a new language.

That being said, long commutes can have a negative effect on our bodies. Research says it can affect blood pressure and blood sugar and also creates stress and anxiety. It can lead to back pain and even affect sleep. If you are considering taking on the commute to save your family the stress of being uprooted, remember that the stress of relocation will be temporary. Your commute will be permanent.

Relocating the family, moving your children to new schools and forming new social networks will not be a simple solution by any means. Abu Dhabi isn’t the other side of the world, but the distance will make it harder to retain the close friendships you have formed. Popping over to see friends in your old neighbourhood for coffee or a barbecue will require a lot more planning and effort. But forming new relationships in a new location, while not the easiest, is not as tough as you may think.

The transient nature of the country we live in means there is a welcoming culture in place. Most of us have been in this situation at some point and are ready to offer a support system to those in the same position. Children are also extremely adaptable, often more so than their parents. Moves such as this, if handled correctly, can help to prepare them for other changes they will inevitably experience during their lives. But it is important to remember that we all adapt at different paces.

To make a decision, talk to your family, especially the kids; talk to people you know who commute, and also those who have relocated for their jobs. And talk to your new company and see what support is in place for new employees who have had to make the same decision. They may make allowances for those who commute, offering more flexible working hours or the option to work from home on certain days.

Formalise any agreement made and have it written into your contract. Remember, if they want you at your best and most productive, they should take into account your family and living situation. Make sure whatever decision you come to does not just take your family’s happiness and comfort into account but also your own. It can be easy to overlook our own needs.

Doctor's prescription:

The road you are going down may require a few short-term changes for others and possibly a longer-term change for you. Children can adapt and respond, but think about the effect on your own life and well-being from this decision. Whatever path you decide to take, remember, take it slowly, thoughtfully and don’t go over your own speed limit.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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