Why traveller health & well-being are fundamental elements of corporate Duty of Care

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Travel News 08 Jun 2017

Where Duty of Care is concerned, most travel managers’ first thoughts are for traveller safety and tracking their whereabouts in the event of an emergency. 

The overall health, happiness and general well-being of corporate travellers is usually further down the priority list but, in recent years, has been brought to the fore by organisations that recognise the link between well-being, productivity and talent retention.

As the global workforce has become more mobile, the cost of attracting and retaining talent has also increased. Today, the cost of hiring ranges from 15 – 30% of annual salary depending on whether recruitment is undertaken in-house or via an agency, and can rise higher still when management, training and other hidden costs are taken into account. No wonder employers are keen to hold onto their expensively-recruited talent, which means making sure staff stay happy, motivated and productive.

A few years back industry expert Scott Gillespie coined the phrase ‘traveller friction’ to describe the negative impact business travel can have on employees who travel too much or inefficiently. Traveller friction makes travellers less productive, more reluctant to travel and more likely to leave the company.

Disaffected travellers are also more likely to book outside policy, compromising the degree of leverage available to the company in driving greater savings. Traveller friction also reduces the company’s ability to fulfil its duty of care obligations – or at least travellers’ perceptions that those obligations are being met.

If travellers come to harm, their employers can suffer severe legal, financial and reputational consequences. The impact of inconvenience to the traveller is less easy to quantify; from lost baggage to flight delays, the result is usually more un-wanted stress.

Some say that the strains of business travel are simply part of the job, although few would argue that the glamour of regular travel fades quickly. The job can take the traveller away from home for long periods, lead to lack of exercise or relaxation and generally wreak havoc on the employee’s personal and family life. 

The fact is, cost isn’t everything. Savings may be the travel manager’s top priority, but not at the expense of traveller well-being.  Allowing staff to travel in business or first class, especially on long-haul gives them the opportunity to rest, reducing the risk of lost productivity due to fatigue - or worse if the traveller is allowed to drive after a long flight.  Every trip should take into account the itinerary, age and health of the traveller, and post-trip recovery time.

Similarly, cheap hotels can be a false economy. If the chosen accommodation lacks essential facilities such as WiFi, or hasn’t been vetted and has poor reviews on TripAdvisor, traveller friction will result. Location and surroundings are essential to employees feeling safe, especially in a foreign environment. Hotels with recreational facilities such as a pool or a gym also provide the means to achieve a better work/life balance.

Airport lounges may be seen as a privilege but enable business travellers to make the best use of their journey time and to stay productive.

Another option is to allow travellers to add leisure days onto a business trip – known as bleisure. Providing the rules are clearly laid-out in the travel programme, combining business with pleasure allows employees to alleviate work stress even further.

Adopting a culture of traveller well-being is key. Whether that means allowing travellers to get home earlier than planned rather than wait for the later, cheaper flight, or simply ensuring that travellers don’t face a huge workload when they return to the office after a long trip. Of course, this requires senior management to understand the trade-off of costs against higher productivity.

A formal wellness policy demonstrates the company’s commitment to maintaining a work-life balance and helps to promote a culture of health. The policy should include advice for travellers on nutrition, healthy eating whilst on the road, provide tips on exercise and how to get a good night’s sleep.

Above all, ask your travellers how they feel and how well travel policy meets their personal needs as well as the companies.