Frequent business travel can be harmful. Here's why employers should care.
Office Of The Day is the new #OOTD.
Think of the visual merchandiser who passes the Eiffel Tower en route to a Chanel store. Or the procurement officer who can’t leave the vineyard until he’s done tasting all the wines (such a hard life).
Instagram has made job envy a viral infection, with symptoms most deeply felt on a Monday morning commute. These globetrotting lifestyles may seem like a dream to millennials chasing ‘travel opportunities’ in a job, but is the grass really greener in Paris and Bordeaux, or is it the work of VSCO filters?
Behind the glamour of business travel lies what many are quick to dismiss as ‘first world problems’, but here’s why every employer should pay attention to them.
A toll on the physical well-being
Turnover rates are notoriously high in the cabin crew industry for a good reason. Business travellers may not fly as frequently as cabin crew do, but the human body isn’t designed to spend so much time 35,000 feet above sea level.
According to Scott Cohen’s research paper, A Darker Side of Hypermobility, exposure to radiation increases by over hundreds of times in the air, and covering 85,000 miles a year easily exceeds the safe limits.
Now that’s a gigantic red flag for your health, sneakily disguised as great news for your frequent flyer program.
Think it all ends the moment your aircraft lands? Think again.
Shuffling across time zones, climates and places does your immunity a great disservice. To kick-start this triple-threat combo, jet lags already cause sleep deprivation and lethargy. If you aren’t blessed with the ability to knock out anywhere and have difficulty falling asleep in unfamiliar surroundings, your sleep cycles get messed up further.
Now throw in a sinus condition protesting against your transition from summer to winter and, voila, you’re now having the worst time of your life.
The habits of business travellers worsens this adaptation process. While an expense account unlocks an onslaught of fancy restaurant food and late-night room service orders, they are often high in calorie count and low in nutritional value.
Furthermore, the culture of entertainment meals is often indulgent and—you guessed it—involves copious amounts of alcohol. Compounded with the disruption of your workout routines from back home, this lifestyle leads to ageing and obesity in the long run.
Insidious effects on mental health
While the physical toll is the most visible downside of business travel, its impact on a traveller’s mental health is terribly understated. Here’s how.
Working round the clock
When employees go on business trips, they tend to end up working even more hours than usual.
Think about it: business travellers are never really off-duty aboard. From the moment they land to placards welcoming them at arrivals, to the obligatory networking drinks late into the night. Exhausted, they return to the same hotel to catch some shuteye before an 8-hour conference in the same building the next morning.
When the line between sanctuary and office gets blurred, downtime can feel like standby mode.
To make matters worse, business trips on shoestring budgets may result in employees sharing rooms, depriving them of the personal space and creating so many ways in which distress can snowball.
Maybe their bathroom usage values do not align. Maybe he snores like an engine. Maybe she can only fall asleep with the light on, and Yankee Candle’s Black Cherry lit on her bedside table.
Either way, your star employees might return feeling not so star-like after all.
If leisure travel already has its fair share of anxieties and paranoia, it goes without saying that the headspace of a business traveller can be plagued with stress from start to end.
Accounting for variables like traffic jams, weather delays and technical failures make the preparation process complex. In foreign land and cultures, navigating professional duties can be a very different ball game.
For starters, sticking out like a suit-donning, MacBook-wielding sore thumb in less developed countries with safety issues can invite crime and incidents.
Once the trip concludes, resuming regular programming can be a dread too. Check your employee’s email inbox after a week away, and the three-digit unread count will speak for itself.
Even in the safest of environments and on the smoothest of trips, employees who are married with families are not spared from the worry of being away from home, and the guilt of missing important occasions. When work makes their personal relationships suffer, employers will eventually be met with the bigger problem—staff retention.
An employer’s circle of control
This begs the question - what can employers do to minimise burnout and keep business travel optimised? Here are some possible ways.
HR and welfare policies
On top of staggering the frequency of work trips, having a rest day before and after allows them downtime for adjustment.
This is especially important for trips that commence on Saturdays, for your employees might have to toil for 2 consecutive weeks with no break in between.
If it can be afforded, letting long service staff bring their families along once in a blue moon is a nice gesture which shows that the management cares too.
Savvy planning and education
Now, even though budget is often the main consideration, there are workarounds that go a long way in enhancing the experience.
For starters, fatigue can be significantly reduced with direct flights instead of connecting ones, and selecting hotels with gymnasiums or nearby parks make it easier for employees to maintain active lifestyles while aboard.
More importantly, educating them on topics like eating well and crisis/incident management will encourage sustainable and self-directed attitudes towards business travel.
When your employees are more confident, the commercial practice of business travel can be in the interests of both parties.
Business travel doesn’t need to be so hard
Robots may be taking over the world, but some relationships are still best forged over a warm handshake, and a good old-fashioned exchange of business cards.
For companies operating across regions with cultural differences, these face-to-face interactions are all the more necessary. After all, it is only through experiencing a city and her people first-hand that a marketer can learn what makes them tick.
Clearly, what started out as a duty of senior managers has become commonplace, and cracks are starting to show in what was once perceived as an incentive for employees.
But, if business travel is here to stay, it’s up to the management to mitigate its repercussions.