Did you know that protecting the well-being of your business travelers benefits your company? Here’s how:
Your people are your most prized asset. But expecting one of your business travelers to take red-eye flights, then come in to the office after days on the road, and produce an implementation plan en route to the conference treats your valued employee more like software than a software developer.
Comparing business travelers to “athletes in a suit” during a recent GBTA webinar on reducing traveler stress and anxiety, Dr. Lucy Rattrie said that companies often have unrealistic expectations for their employees. “You’d never expect your favorite sports team to get up at 3 a.m., fly somewhere, ace a sports game, fly home, and get up for training at 6 o’clock the next morning.”
The stress associated with frequent business travel—compounded by the duress of productivity, performance, and personal sacrifice—leads to traveler burnout, especially for employees who travel 14 or more days per month. This duress can be demoralizing, causing depression, job dissatisfaction and disengagement, resulting in the expensive process of employee replacement.
Ensuring employee well-being—safeguarding their mental, physical, and social welfare—is a common law duty of care responsibility that applies to traveling employees, whether they are meeting a prospective client across town or presenting at a conference across the globe.
“Employers have the moral and legal responsibility and obligation for the health, safety and security of their employees, especially those traveling on behalf of the employer.”
– Stephen Page, Assistant VP, Lockton Companies Insurance Brokerage
Here are three ways companies can increase traveler satisfaction and well-being and enjoy the benefits that come from happy, healthy business travelers:
1. Communicate Your Concern
Letting your travelers know you’ve got their backs alleviates many travel-induced stressors, so communicating this concern is vital. Yet 61% of business travelers surveyed by Amadeus said either their company “doesn’t take steps to actively improve traveler well-being or they are unsure whether the company does.”
In another study, only 44% of international business travelers said they were offered real-time information on security issues and only 43% were given tracking information for their business trips, leading more than half of these employees to believe their well-being is of little consequence to their employer.
“People are spending time away from their lives for your business, and if you treat [travel] as just a cost center, eventually those employees will treat your business as just a job. Ignoring that for any company that is investing in developing and retaining talent is a huge risk.”
– Harmony Miller, HR Manager, GRI
You can communicate your commitment to traveler well-being by:
- Verifying key health and safety information, such as emergency contacts and personal itineraries, before each trip
- Holding traveler training to discuss your emergency plans/protocols
- Empowering travelers and travel managers with mobile apps that provide security alerts, destination maps, and links to their itineraries, like SecurityLogic.
- Lessening the headaches of travel by allowing travelers to rebook canceled or delayed flights through travel advisors
- Reviewing and discussing your travel policy at least annually to ensure it’s in line with institutional and personnel changes
“Employers can further support a culture of health by adopting policies that mitigate the wear and tear of business travel and by providing their travelers with tools and training for handling stress while on the road.”
– Dr. Andrew Rundle, Associate Professor, Columbia University
2. Develop a Traveler-friendly Policy
Although booking a 5 a.m. flight for a 9 a.m. meeting may save the cost of an overnight stay at the Marriott, Amadeus shows that poor traveler well-being can “create costs for employers through higher medical claims, reduced employee productivity and performance, absenteeism, presenteeism and short-term disability.”
Maintaining traveler well-being means making accommodations in your policy, but this actually benefits businesses. Having a “very attractive travel policy” interested 84% of business travelers when considering a different job requiring a similar amount of travel. According to 83% of respondents, a better travel policy would be equal to or more important than pay and responsibilities, so factoring employee well-being into a travel policy is essential to employee retention and recruitment.
According to ARC, allowing non-stop flights is the most preferred way to ease business travel friction, followed by providing better/more convenient lodging options, allowing business-class travel on extended flights, and allowing paid time off after long trips.
Lodging affects travelers throughout their stay, so a pleasant experience—or a bad one—has a big impact on well-being. If the hotel has limited options, travelers are more likely eat junk food, drink heavily, and be sedentary, all of which lead to burnout, an “occupational phenomenon” recognized by the World Health Organization.
Employees suffering from burnout or fatigue are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors that they might not participate in at home, according to International SOS. And burnout often requires an extensive recovery period.
“It took about six months for me to recover from what was considered burnout by my doctor. When I got to that point, it felt like chronic fatigue.” – Dr. Lucy Rattrie, Psychologist & Founding Partner, Business Travel Wellbeing Community
However, you can mitigate travel impacts on employees by aligning accommodations with your travelers’ needs. To promote well-being, select hotels with facilities and services such as:
- Easy access to conferences and meetings
- Fitness facilities and / or pool (or reimburse travelers for memberships to national gyms)
- Healthy onsite and nearby dining or in-room meal prep options
- 24-hour services
- Employee-paid relaxation services such as massage and yoga
Mia Kyricos, global head of well-being at Hyatt Hotels, told the New York Times that our 24/7 world places increasing demands on work and life, so “well-being is top of mind for everyone today, and we think that’s going to continue in the future.”
3. Combine Business with Pleasure
If you’re looking to increase traveler well-being, allowing a “bizcation” or “bleisure” travel—personal days before or after a business trip—may make your travelers more willing to leave home and increase their productivity. Since business travel reduces social and personal time, adding bleisure provisions to your travel policy promotes a better employee work/life balance, which in turn facilitates employee well-being.
Employees also benefit from bleisure opportunities by reaching destinations they might not otherwise afford, such as Europe or Asia, and by accessing bucket list entertainment and activities like visiting the Museo del Prado in Madrid, ziplining Arebak Volcano, Costa Rica, or seeing Lady Gaga live in Las Vegas.
A study of international business travelers found that while 74% of respondents “saw business travel as an opportunity for adventure and exploration,” the corporate decision to include bleisure time “was inconsistent and at the direction of individual managers.”
Developing a bleisure policy for employee well-being doesn’t have to hurt the bottom line if its provisions are thoughtfully implemented, such as:
- Allowing employees personal days if their originating or returning flight falls on a cheaper travel day
- Providing bleisure opportunities if employees subsidize their travel insurance and / or any travel changes that increase trip costs
- Defining employee responsibilities for bleisure travel including duty of care, expense tracking, communication, and travel arrangements
- Permitting employees to travel with a self-paid companion to enjoy bleisure time and increase their connectivity with family or friends
- Using bleisure travel as a benefit for employees who save your business money by complying with corporate travel policies
“Bleisure travel is ultimately a win-win for employers and employees,” said Chubb insurers. “By providing guidance and extending protection to employees taking bleisure trips, companies can safeguard their greatest assets, address issues before they arise, and reap the financial benefits of their support.”
Well Travelers = Willing Travelers
Since comfort and support are critical to traveler performance, implementing a travel policy that accounts for employee well-being not only lessens travel impacts on employees but also benefits the bottom line. Allowing travelers to maintain elements of their normal routines and have some travel-related personal or downtime means they will be better rested, eat healthier meals, exercise more, and feel more positive about their job and their time away from home—all of which means they’ll be more likely to travel again.
“Whether we give them an upgraded seat, or extend their trip for leisure, it’s the little things like that that play into the role of overall satisfaction of the traveler.” – Harmony Miller