The common images of business travel -" beautiful people relaxing in airline lounges with a glass of champagne in hand -" do little to disabuse people of the notion that it’s glamorous.
Business travel is about what the company needs. Employees travel to deliver to the company objective. And travel choices are usually made on that basis. A company’s focus on costs often translates into long day trips on low-cost carriers for its travellers in order to save on overnight accommodation costs. But the more that procurement departments focus on cutting cost, the less that employees see business trips as desirable. And all sorts of questions are increasingly being raised about traveller health and well-being, particularly in a world where a job for life is no longer guaranteed.
Corporate social responsibility requirements have meant companies minimising risk and being seen to take due care and attention to traveller safety. More progressive employers are now looking at positive strategies to promote travellers’ health and well-being.
A senior travel manager at a large, multinational pharmaceutical company told this writer, “There has been a shift in corporate traveller management to a more traveller-centric view.
“I have definitely noticed a cultural shift in the last three years from being purely savings driven to looking at the service given to employees: how can we make their life easier, how can travel programme deliver more efficiencies and more intuitive ways of booking to match the traveller. We need to take into account the needs of different teams and traveller profiles and work around what individual travellers need.”
That company is also working on a project to identify the right amount of travel for a person. The research will go out to a range of the company’s travellers -" road warriors and more ad hoc travellers -" and ask open-ended questions around work-like balance, productivity and health and well-being. The survey will ask “Do they feel they travel too much for their job? Are they away from their families too much? How many times do they want to travel? The object is to get a real range of respondents and then do some analysis.”
The manager concedes that such research will not come up with a definitive answer but, she said, “We will come up with guidelines, qualitative research, how much time should be spent on travel.”
She added, “Even though they will be inconvenienced by business travel, we want to make it as comfortable as possible.”
The focus may be shifting to traveller well-being because the new generation of travellers -" the so-called Generation Y -" is looking for a work-life balance as much as career success. People are much more conscious of the effects of lifestyle on health.
Business travel, with its toxic combination of patchy sleep, little exercise and sugar and fat-loaded grazing, is not known for its health-promoting features. Business Travel and Self-rated Health, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors is a paper by Catherine Richards and Andrew Rundle based upon a survey of 13,000 employees. The authors found that BMI, cholesterol levels and other health indicators worsened with high levels of business travel.
There are signs that companies are sitting up and taking notice. After all, a lot of time and money goes into selecting and training talent and studies point out that companies that appear to look after their employees have higher employee retention and lower churn rates. In addition absence from work because of stress can cost companies huge amounts.
The development of travel alternatives such as web- and videoconferencing has had some effect on reducing the need for travel, but face-to-face meetings are seen as commercial imperatives for those in client-facing roles. Companies increasingly recognise that there are ways to promote good health amongst their business travellers.
It will cost a company more to put a traveller in the more comfortable premium economy or business class seats for long-haul trips, but it also means that travellers are more looked after and less “burnt out” by travel. In some companies travel policies are being re-adjusted to allow more premium class travel than was the case in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 global economic downturn. A more comfortable flight also ensures the traveller is able to work upon arrival.
Choosing a hotel with a gym or with a gym facility nearby is another trend as is advice about diet. Just because the menus offer chips with everything doesn’t mean they have to be consumed at every meal.
The advent of budget hotels and low-cost carriers has lowered the cost of travel but that doesn’t mean that travellers’ health and welfare also need to be sacrificed.