Find out whether traveller well-being can really drive profit. In this report expert buyers and thought leaders come together to explore the relationship b
Can traveller well-being really drive profit?
Together with expert buyers and thought leaders, we explore the intersection of corporate culture, traveller well-being and business value creation
There is growing recognition across today’s businesses that contented, satisfied employees perform better and that this reflects positively on the balance sheet. This revelation has re-framed the way corporates think about employee welfare and the ripple effects can be seen influencing travel policies across the globe.
This more enlightened approach reflects well on company culture. Increasingly we see that aligning travel policy to corporate culture secures not just talent, but also a respected position in the supply chain. Businesses are now looking for suppliers that reflect their ethics and priorities, not least because these choices have a direct impact on reputation.
In addition, employees want to work for businesses that reflect their ideals. This doesn’t just apply to millennials, although they were at the forefront of making employment choices on this basis. Now, people of all ages want to work for an organisation that is concerned not only about its employees, but about how its activities impact on the wider world. After all, business is global and so are the corporate and social responsibilities it carries.
With the increasing use of machine learning and AI comes a greater focus on human talent, because introducing greater automation for repetitive, mundane tasks, opens up opportunities for employees to take on more interesting and innovative work.
Aligning travel policy to corporate culture secures not just talent, but also a respected position in the supply chain.
What tops the priority list for your business when writing a travel policy?
- Employee well-being
THE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE OF HUMAN CAPITAL
Talent retention is key and the desire for work life balance applies across the generations.
“Our research showed that everybody wanted meaningful, challenging work, high levels of freedom and autonomy, and the opportunity to progress and develop” says head of the talent assessment and leadership expertise centre at ZS (formerly Hay Group) Tania Lennon.
For many, work life balance is about being able to get the job done to the best standard in the smallest amount of time, leaving people free to enjoy their personal time; and business travel plays a key part in this. Travellers don’t want to waste time waiting at the airport, they want the best flight times so that they can reduce the days they spend away from home. Removing friction points and enabling travellers to maximise productivity on the move, often by embracing smart technology is high on the agenda.
When UBS re-wrote its global travel strategy, the bank’s executive director, global travel lead Mark Cuschieri, reviewed it internally and externally over 12 months to see how the bank was keeping pace with changes in the industry and to futureproof the programme. A major investment in technology provided fast, simple, flexible IT access from any app or device, from anywhere. Parity was critical, not just in price but also user experience. “We believe our corporate travellers are consumers and should be treated as such,” says Cuschieri.
Acknowledging business travellers as consumers, is also to acknowledge the holistic human. It is to realise that you get more from people when you understand and accommodate their drivers, both professional and personal.
“Human capital is going to be a much better source of economic and competitive advantage for companies than tangible assets, but they need to be able to deploy them more effectively than they have in the past by focusing people on those things they can do more efficiently than machines.” says Lennon.
With work-life balance now ranking among the top priorities for candidates, travel policies have taken on a new level of significance: if the way in which a business manages its travel policy has a direct impact on its ability to attract and retain talent, then CEOs have an ongoing challenge when it comes to marrying rising expectations with continued pressures to cut costs.
says group CEO of Reed & Mackay Fred Stratford.
New world employee engagement
BUSINESS TRAVEL IS NO LONGER JUST ABOUT WORK
Employees now exhibit greater trust in peer opinion than expert recommendation, there is a growing importance placed on frequent travellers remaining connected to ‘home’ life and a greater focus on cultural differences. For UBS, the paramount aim in the first year was communication and traveller engagement and to measure the latter, UBS launched an electronic survey in EMEA, sent after each trip with a few questions relating to the journey with a thumbs up/down response. If the response is a thumbs down, the traveller’s regional manager calls them to talk about the cause of discontent.
Getting under the skin of what employees want helps improve their performance and can inspire loyalty when competitors come knocking.
Fred Stratford, Group CEO, Reed & Mackay
HEALTH RISK - A SLIDING SCALE
Frequent travellers have a greater level of exposure to factors that can impact their health. And, if they are travelling under a cost-driven travel policy, which many are, these factors can be exacerbated.
For instance, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), developed as a result of taking many long-haul flights, is a well known health hazard, which is why law firm Pinsent Masons gives compression socks to travellers most at risk. Other companies put preventative measures in place such as allowing cabin upgrades for longer flights (often more than seven hours). Travelling in business class presents the chance to lie flat or almost flat, a benefit in terms of reducing the risk of blood clotting in the deep venous system, because it removes the gravitational effect causing pooling of blood in the legs.
At Pinsent Masons we take a holistic approach to the
wellbeing of our people. We’ve grown significantly and with international growth comes more travel. Having a wellbeing strategy is critical
Jonathan Bond, Director of HR and Learning
To build a well-being strategy, Jonathan Bond, Director of HR and Learning at law firm, Pinsent Masons, examines data to identify wellness related trends that the firm can proactively tackle, “We look at data to determine what the big picture items are that we need to tackle. For instance, information from claims and from occupational health tests enable us to spot and proactively address trends” continued Bond.
When Pinsent Masons first began looking at ways to help prevent DVT, they found off the shelf solutions lacking. “We all know the best practice advice of keeping mobile on a plane and staying hydrated, but we wanted to go beyond that. When we started to look at compression socks we found that many off the shelf products were not highly rated. So we worked with a company called ISObar who tailor make the socks to the traveller’s leg measurements. For those that trialled them, the results were positive with travellers reporting a complete reduction in swelling during a flight” revealed Bond.
Beyond environmental risks such as disease or DVT, there are also serious consequences from not looking after yourself when on the move. A report published in Harvard Business Review this year, 'Just how bad is business travel for your health?' found that spending over 14 nights away from home per month had a significant impact on body mass index scores. Additionally, compared to those who spent from 1 – 6 nights away per month, very frequent travellers were more likely to report clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence.
Leading travel brands are focusing on this, for instance, hotels are now going beyond just providing a gym. Many also organise early morning exercise groups to get their guests moving and improve their well-being.
"Research indicated that the more someone travelled, the more likely it was to affect their general health. This was partly related to not being able to sleep well and drinking more than they would normally – it affects lifestyle factors,” says expert in travel medicine and occupational medicine Dr Dipti Patel.
The number of employees being sent on short or long-term assignments abroad is on the rise. According to research undertaken by Collinson Group, 46% of HR professionals polled expected more staff to be sent on such assignments over the next three years (to 2021), 23% of respondents are increasing the number of employees deployed to ‘tier two’ emerging economies such as China and Russia and further 8% is sending people to frontier territories like Nigeria and Argentina.
The number of employees travelling on business is on the rise and it’s clear to see why. Face to face meetings, which often require travel are worth £193 billion to the UK economy alone (CEBR). So care must be taken to keep businesses and the global economy moving while mitigating the risks attached to travelling.
Duty of care does, of course, prescribe that companies look after their staff, which ranges from ensuring they are appropriately inoculated to having a culture that encourages employees to talk about their health, mental or physical.
Pinsent Masons takes a preemptive approach where possible to keep their people safe around the world, “We provide our travellers with preemptive information from risk company, International SOS along with 24-hour access to assistance centres. This can cover anything from basic traveller tips and medical advice to evacuations to make our travellers less vulnerable and mitigate any risks.” said Global Travel Manager, Rosie Mohammad.
Yet not everything can be managed ahead of time, with travel comes surprises, “we had an incident recently where a traveller had lost their wallet whilst travelling overseas. The most efficient way of transferring money was wiring it through International SOS which was a very useful solution”, continues Mohammad.
Considering the anticipated rise in overseas assignments, putting plans in place to keep employees safe and healthy on the move has never been so key.
Jetlag is a significant contributor to an individual's state of well-being when travelling on business. Despite common misconception, it's not an uncontrollable factor but cost-driven travel policies often exacerbate it. Flying to New York and back in a day in economy class may seem a more economic option on the surface, yet the impact it has on the traveller and their cognitive performance can negate any monetary saving.
“While it might be more cost effective, if they are not performing cognitively in that meeting, they run the risk of not collecting the information they went for or the deal not coming off and the whole point of the business trip is potentially wasted,” says Papillon Luck, whose company 15th Degree specialises in mitigating the less desirable effects of travel. “Enhancing the cognitive and physical function of the traveller not only gives greater return for the corporate but it is a better, more enjoyable experience for the traveller.” If there were any doubt, jetlag costs UK businesses £241 million a year.
The earth turns 15 degrees every hour, the equivalent of a time zone, and it takes 24 hours for every time zone crossed for the body to acclimatise cognitively. So a return flight to New York, involving a five-hour time change, will incur 10 days’ recovery time. The main factors are sleep, light, nutrition and hydration. Lack of hydration on the ground is amplified at 30,000 feet and results in cognitive impairment, headaches and overall health issues; and the body’s intestinal gas can expand as much as 50%, affecting normal digestion and gut rhythm. Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) is also a factor.
In 2018, Qantas conducted a clinical trial with University of Sydney on the flight from London to Perth to make the 17-hour marathon viable. Passengers wore technology that measured their responses and biomarkers, and analysis of that data led to the airline introducing nutritional menus in all classes, meditation on flights and the right shade of light to adjust to circadian rhythms for showers on arrival.
“A business traveller’s schedule is determined by external factors, namely other people’s availability, costing, diary management, logistics – health is tacked on to the end or not considered at all,” says Luck. “If someone’s cognitive peak performance is between 10.00 and 13.00, they need to schedule meetings then. My vision for two years to come is that we plan our business schedule around our health.”
Mental health has no boundaries
MENTAL HEALTH HAS NO BOUNDARIES
An increase in travel can also mean an uplift in insurance claims. A study among World Bank staff and consultants showed that travellers’ claims were notably higher than those of their non-travelling peers, with the highest rise in those for stress-related disorders. Regarding the higher number of claims, says Dr Dipti Patel, “These were not major mental health issues and the stresses weren’t in the travel itself, but in having to catch up on work and being away from family.”
Additionally, she points out that a problem someone has at home such as depression might not be easy to handle when abroad because the medical infrastructure and support may be different or not there at all, “and the attitude towards mental health may be different, they are all interrelated. It is not that the problem is worse but it is more difficult to manage,” says Patel.
Companies today are much more aware of their duty of care with a general understanding that looking after staff is good for people and therefore for business. However, “Sometimes when people send staff overseas, they don’t think they have the same responsibility, but responsibility doesn’t stop when they get on a plane,” says Patel.
There is a joined up approach required to put the best level of employee care in place. This requires pulling down silos and connecting teams such as HR, travel and global mobility for a 360-degree view of employee well-being, whether in their everyday office or overseas, stationary or on the move.
It is not that the problem is worse but it is more difficult to manage.
Dr Dipti Patel
The bottom line of employee welfare
THERE IS A DIRECT LINK BETWEEN EMPLOYEE WELL-BEING, ABSENTEEISM AND LACK OF PERFORMANCE
Research undertaken by 'Health Shield' shows absenteeism costs businesses more than £12.8 billion per annum in wages alone, and many more HR departments are now being tasked with engaging with employees and keeping absence rates as low as possible.
Business travel is widely acknowledged to place pressures on health and well-being, so businesses must proactively mitigate this.
Exacerbating factors include high frequency of trips, red eye flights, coping with numerous time zones and not enough time to recuperate between trips. Organisations that insist their travellers fly indirect routes to save money might consider the toll that takes on travellers; paying extra to fly direct is less expensive than replacing burned-out employees.
Paying extra to fly direct is less expensive than replacing burned-out employees.
To what degree do you consider the impact of employee burn out when writing travel policy?
- Strong degree of consideration
- Some consideration
- Employee burn out is not considered
Encouraging a collaborative approach between travel, HR and procurement would help mitigate many of these problems.
A report published in Harvard Business Review this year, 'just how bad is business travel for your health?' looks at the impact of spending 14 or more nights away from home per month and found that even with the increasing sophistication of conference calls and video chat, business travel is a prominent feature of many occupations and is likely to remain so. It will continue to be an avenue of professional advancement, and the
opportunity to travel is often touted by companies as a benefit in their recruitment of talent.
Organisations should look at the attrition rate for employees who have spent more than 35 nights on the road per year. If it is high, they should change the travel policy.
says managing partner at benchmarking specialist tClara Scott Gillespie.
The report concludes, “If you have employees who are often between cities, you owe it to them to provide the education, tools and resources so they can maintain healthy lifestyles while on the road.”
Today’s travel policies, therefore, are more than a series of rules addressing rate caps or class of travel. They recognise business travel as a key business driver and provide a framework that protects and enables both the company and their people.
A PEOPLE LED CULTURE DRIVES REWARD
Millennials in particular view business travel as both a benefit of their role and necessary to advancing their career but they also report it has a negative impact on their relationships with family and friends, and they suffer from loneliness and isolation. They cannot be the only ones.
The importance of keeping people connected and providing sufficient flexibility to achieve a level of work life balance is high on many corporate agendas right now. Quite simply, the incoming talent demands it. A people-led company culture comes from the top and PepsiCo is a shining example of positive leadership, instituted by former chief executive of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand Robbert Rietbroek.
“‘Leaders Leaving Loudly’ is something we created to ensure that when team leaders leave, they feel comfortable doing so but also to declare it to the broader team,” Rietbroek said in an article in The Daily Telegraph Australia.
If he occasionally left the office at 4pm to pick up his daughters, he made sure he told the people around him, “‘I’m going to pick up my children.’ Because if it’s okay for the boss, then it’s okay for middle management and new hires”, said Rietbroek.
The objective was to reduce presenteeism and included in this affirmative culture was discouraging after hours and weekend emails, unless “absolutely necessary”, and flexible working, traditionally associated with women, but at PepsiCo it is encouraged across genders.
This kind of company culture is reflected in all policies, including travel. Increasingly the previously accepted step change between travel policy allowance for those select few at the top, versus the rest of the business is being challenged. Not least because safety and security matters for every employee, legally and ethically.
A considered travel policy that puts people at the heart is an indication of an organisation that is concerned about its staff. This attracts and retains the best talent and allows those people to perform to the best of their ability.
To what degree is your senior leadership involved in your business travel strategy?
- Very - it gets board sign off
- Somewhat - leadership is involved
- Not very - it’s managed at category level