Business travel may drive company prosperity but it can have consequences for traveller health. What might improve traveller satisfaction?
It’s not just George Clooney in Up in the Air to blame. Airline ads have a habit of showcasing their cabin crew dealing with requests for roast beef off the serving trolley when they’re not focused on pouring the claret.
For better or worse, business travel has the image of being glamorous and a career aspiration. The reality for many is quite different.
A review of past scientific studies noted, "frequent business travel, especially long-haul travel, accelerates aging and increases the likelihood of suffering a stroke, heart attack, and deep-vein thrombosis... Even the most health conscious business traveller can struggle to maintain a healthy diet while travelling”.
According to another study, “frequent travel leads to unhealthy lifestyles (e.g., poor diet, lack of exercise, excess drinking), while jet lag causes stress, mood swings, disorientation, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal problems, all of which impair job performance”.
The high usage and apparently unhindered steady growth in business travel is in stark contrast to executives’ increasing use of online rather than offline for their communications.
Face-to-face meetings are invaluable to building business relationships and developing new business in new markets. A study by Oxford Economics found that both executives and business travellers estimate that 28% of current business would be lost without in person meetings.
A strategic business travel program can contribute to the financial health of a company but what does it do to the men and women who are regularly getting on planes and spending time away from family and friends?
DIET AND EXERCISE
Even the most health-conscious business traveller can struggle to maintain a healthy diet while travelling. Most meals will be consumed in restaurants where fat and sugar are liberally used to create the food that’s popular on menus but travellers can follow a few simple rules to make their away-from-home diets healthier.
The lack of exercise that comes from sitting in an airline seat and being whisked by taxi from destination to destination can also take a toll but a strategy of including properties with gym and fitness facilities in the corporate hotel program can go some way towards keeping travellers’ minds and bodies fit.
To travellers a poor diet and lack of exercise can pale in comparison to the effects of being away from friends and family.
TRAVEL AND WELL-BEING
Global expense management company Chrome River conducted research among US, Canadian, British and Australian travellers to discover the relationship between travel policy and traveller satisfaction. The survey was completed by 1,456 people who travelled a minimum of three times a year for business.
Its findings included that “the top ‘perk’ of business travel among all groups is the ability to see new places, and the top detractor among all groups is spending time away from the family.
Choice is a key driver of satisfaction among those who view themselves as happiest with business travel. Those who are able to choose the travel provider (airline, hotel, car rental provider) are significantly more likely to be satisfied than those who are required to use the employer’s preferred vendor.
The importance of personal choice to a traveller’s well-being was also the finding of a survey by the Global Business Travel Association: “Two out of five of business travellers in Europe (41%) say they have booked a business trip out of policy to lower stress/anxiety while travelling.”
The GBTA also asked travellers “What do you see as the greatest challenge you face when traveling for business?” The top answers were “The time it takes” and “Finding a balance between the time spent travelling and being away from family/friends”. This echoed the Chrome River study finding that “Spending time away from the family” was the most frequent answer to “What is the Worst Aspect of Business Travel?” with 35% of both medium and frequent travellers as well as Brits giving it as their answer. This was also the highest scoring reason for all age groups although it was thought so by only 30% of Millennials in contrast to 40% of Generation X and 36% of Baby Boomers. The differences might very well be attributed to the likelihood of family responsibilities at different ages.
An executive may have to travel to deliver on their corporate responsibilities but there are things that corporate travel policy can address to improve the well-being of their employees.
The GBTA report seems to indicate that a more flexible travel policy and delegating some of the decision making can make a huge impact on traveller satisfaction and therefore well-being. It concludes, “Importantly, traveller well-being can align with other company goals. For instance, two out of five business travellers in Europe have booked a trip out of policy to lower stress or anxiety while travelling. A better travel experience could make some of these bookings less likely. Frictionless travel might be impossible to attain on every trip, but a better experience can still be the goal and ultimately can also make it easier to attract and keep top employees".
Scott A Cohen and Stefan Gossling, A darker side of hypermobility, Sage Publications, 2015.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, The Health Risks of Business Travel, Harvard Business Review, November 3, 2015.
Oxford Economics, The return on investment of US Business Travel, 2009.
Chrome River, 2017 Global Benchmark Survey: Business Travel Satisfaction.
GBTA and Sabre, Creating a Frictionless Travel Experience A global study on business traveller satisfaction, October 2017.