Business travel has a wide range of physiological and psychological consequences that are often overlooked.
The light bulb moment
I remember the first time I traveled for work. I was very excited. Since it was my first business trip to London, I did not care much for the airline, the in-flight services, the journey or transit time.
The excitement and experience of traveling overseas blocked these worries from my mind. As I traveled regularly, I realised how these factors affected my ability to perform well for my company.
It took a toll on my health. I started to choose convenience over savings but my company policy, which was restrictive and nebulous, did not allow for much room. I was constantly fighting for the right balance between comfort, compliance, and convenience.
What does a business traveler want?
In independent surveys by two of the largest travel organisations, it was observed that 87 percent of travelers feel that the quality of their business travel impacts their business results and over 90 percent agreed that business travel impacts their overall job satisfaction. This is especially true among the millennials who believe that business and pleasure have to go together to be productive.
What business travelers look for is a means to alleviating the stress and difficulties they come across with their travel. This ranges from the flexibility they have in planning their trips, the amenities they require to be productive during their travel and how convenient it is to report their expenses.
Effects of business travel
The key factor that influences traveler satisfaction is the company’s travel policy. A travel policy defines the rules (or guidelines in some cases) on the type of travel that is allowed, where and how it can be purchased and a set of processes to comply with. Unfortunately, most companies design travel policies to control cost and concerns very little with traveler satisfaction and comfort. This creates tension between what a traveler needs and what the company prescribes.
CWT in its study found that there are 33 factors that induce stress in a traveler. Transit times, work environment while traveling, inconvenient hotel locations, and meals, among others, are some of the factors that affected traveler satisfaction. A similar observation was made in an independent survey by GBTA recently.
The effects of stress and uncomfortable trips compounds with the frequency of travel which has a negative impact on your health and job satisfaction.
In his paper, “A Darker Side of Hypermobility”, Scott Cohen, deputy director of research of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management reveals that faster ageing, exposure to high levels of radiation, weaker immune system, higher risk for obesity, increased risk of mental health issues are some of the effects of frequent business travel.
Over 70 percent of business travelers report some of these symptoms even when they travel across a one-time zone. It has also been estimated that jet lag recovery time may take a day for every time zone crossed.
What should businesses do?
Considering that cost of hiring is costlier compared to the cost of retention, it is important for companies to understand and manage the effects of their policy on their traveler.
There is a difference in how generations perceive job satisfaction. For example, millennial’s want more transparency and choice in booking their travel. On the other hand, automated tools were important for GenX, while personal life and productivity during travel were important for the boomer's generation. Depending on the workforce, companies need to align how they manage their travel.
Regardless of how companies manage their travel, they need to start aligning with the needs of the traveler and assess the factors that impact the wellbeing of their traveler during business trips.
They need to use tools that allow them to integrate traveler behavioral data with booking data to see where the disconnects are. Feedback between what policy prescribes and how travelers behave is an important step aspect of achieving employee satisfaction on business trips.
Catherine Richards, a professor at the Department of Epidemiology of Columbia University, who has studied the health risks linked to business travel, suggests the following:
- Book rooms only with hotel chains that have gyms, and provide financial incentives to employees to exercise while traveling.
- Offer reimbursement rates for food on the road based on the quality of the food consumed.
Other things companies can do is;
- Offer employees an extra night, before or after a work event /meeting, so they can rest, re-energise and perhaps even fit in some leisure activities.
- Educate employees on stress management and health/wellbeing strategies for business travel.
- Grant access to a travel expense app which allows employees to record expenses with ease.
As the Indian economy grows business travel in India will grow. At $30 billion, India is the 10th largest business travel market growing at CAGR of 12 percent and it has the largest millennial population in the world.
The future of business travel management must focus on people productivity and not on fixed rules and tight processes. A firm or under defined policy undermines the productivity of the employee. Companies need to adopt an intelligent travel guidance. A system, driven by technology and evolves with people behaviour.
As Peter Drucker said, people are the most valuable assets in this century. Any expense towards managing people must be looked as an investment and not as a cost.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)