Business travel was once deemed glamorous, jet-setting from one side of the country to another wearing suits and drinking something on the rocks from a comfy, spacious seat at the front of the plane.
The reality is that traveling (for both work and play) is stressful. But, traveling on business can be even more stressful when a big meeting is waiting on the other side of the country and the suit needs to stay de-wrinkled and the company laptop is now somewhere in the belly of the plane (if it hasn’t gone missing and if it isn’t in a dozen pieces under a piece of 100-pound luggage).
Then, factor in delays and time spent away from family on top of rising security concerns and you get a markedly different vision of what it’s like to be a business traveler from what it once was. This is especially true today when travel rules are changing so rapidly that it’s a good idea to check the news before you check your flight status on the day of the trip.
Stressor #1: Security Concerns
Buying Business Travel recently reported on the latest state of security for business travelers. An unnamed source summed up what travelers are thinking concerning the recent travel bans from particular countries and on banned laptops from carry-on bags: “If there is a real risk, I want to know about it so that I, and my corporate travelers, can make educated decisions on what to do, or not do.”
It seems that there are two primary concerns about airport security. The first is the long wait times leading to the possibility of missing the flight entirely. This can be prevented by arriving at least two hours early, but even then there's still a chance that something will go wrong. The second concern is being pulled aside for extra screening, which is even more stressful, not only because of the time it takes to undergo a thorough check, but because it can be scary to go through the process even if you're perfectly innocent. Being prepared to go with the flow and accepting the fact that you may have to re-book is the best advice for making it out the other side.
Stressor #2: Privacy & Social Media
A recent D.H.S. proposal
suggested asking for
social media usernames
on visa applications.
Travelers are already going through body scanners and taking off shoes and packing tiny bottles of shampoo. Another possible security hoop to jump through for international business travelers is providing social media information. A February 2017 Department of Homeland Security proposal suggested adding an optional request for the applicant’s social media account name to the Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS), which “provides a mechanism through which visa information updates can be obtained from certain nonimmigrant aliens in advance of their travel to the United States.” Note, this is just the applicant’s username, not their login information. The goal of this is for “highly trained CBP officers” to easily access “publicly available information” about the applicant and to “help distinguish between individuals with similar characteristics, such as similar names, and provide an additional means to contact an applicant if needed.”
The debate on this is that it may sound reasonable since the social media information is publically available, but there’s an additional cost that’s not being considered. According to the Buying Business Travel article, “There are concerns the increased costs for the airports of implementing enhanced security scans will be passed on to travelers, as well as a rise in compensation claims for lost or broken equipment for carriers.”
What travelers post to their social media accounts publically should already be a point of concern, but adding the perspective of a Customs & Border Patrol officer could be another stressor. A seemingly harmless joke or maybe even a typo from 2009 in one innocuous context could be taken literally, meaning that travelers could be stuck in a room being questioned for hours on end.
Stressor #3: The Threat of Terrorism
A March 2017 report from the Global Business Travel Association found that an even greater stressor was the looming threat of terrorism. “Almost half (45 percent) rank [terrorism] as their greatest concern when traveling for business, much higher than the share indicating street crime (15 percent), illness/disease outbreaks/sanitation (13 percent), property crime/theft (12 percent), kidnapping (8 percent) or natural disasters (6 percent).”
This concern was rated the one most likely to affect the actual process of business travel more broadly or even change the way we travel. According to the report, “This implies that terrorism is more impactful than disease outbreaks, corporate budget cuts or the effects of the global economy.”
Stressor #4: Work/life Balance
Yet another stressor is the time traveling takes away from family. An April 2017 article in Tourism Management Perspectives titled “Travel Well, Road Warriors: Assessing Business Travelers’ Stressors” noted that “When work expectations and travel demands rise, more work/personal issues associated with travel will increase. Long stays not only affect travelers' home harmony with their families, but also induce feelings of loneliness and separation.”
This means that on top of the physical and mental demands of security, business travelers are also dealing with guilt associated with being away from their families, which creates a strain on their personal relationships.
Stressor #5: Destination & Lack of Preferences
Author of “Travel Well, Road Warriors” Hsiangting Shatina Chen also found some unexpected factors that contribute to travelers’ stress: “hotel/airline preferences and destination…Since business travelers may feel physical exhaustion due to long stay or flight, they demand preferable hotel and airline services, which can help them overcome travel discomfort and reduce travel stress.”
The GBTA Foundation also reported in March 2017 that business travelers view certain destinations like Turkey, Mumbai, and Kuala Lumpur as "most unsafe/not safe at all," leading to a major source of anxiety. However, the survey respondents felt that cities like Washington, D.C., New York, Paris, and London were "safe/very safe." In the end, not all travelers were in agreement about particular destinations' safety, leading to the "fairly common view in today’s world that any destination can be high-risk." Traveling in and of itself, it seems, can be deemed unsafe no matter the destination.
The Results of Long-Time Business Travel Stress
What does all of this add up to? Chen says that “travel stress has a tremendous negative impact on business travelers' well-being and mental health, causes several chronic diseases, and decreases productivity and job satisfaction in the long term.” Specifically, Chen noted physical symptoms like getting less than eight hours of sleep, muscular or back pain, and insomnia.
These problems for travelers could even lead to financial costs for their employers, according to Chen: “Eventually, employees may experience burnout, illness, and tedium during business trips, which in turn, leads to loss in work productivity and efficiency, employees' complaints and turnover, and potential compensation costs to the organizations in a long term.”
How To Overcome Travel Stress Challenges
There is no cure-all for these travel stressors. But, there are precautions that travelers and companies alike can take to assist with the problem.
What Travelers Can Do:
Get travel insurance: Luckily, travelers are covered a bit by some of the credit cards, banks, and third-party providers. Check first with those to make sure that they cover what you might need in an emergency situation in a strange place. If not, see what measures your company takes for emergency situations.
Bring your family with you: If you can make your business trip into a “bleisure” (business + leisure), think about bringing your family to stay for an extra day or two to enjoy the pool or check out the sights. This might reduce the stress of having to catch a red-eye flight so that you aren’t missing time away from your family, but it also might add on some stress if you can’t find a babysitter.
Take control over what you can, like data security: Being smart about how you use your devices should alleviate some of the stress of whether valuable data might be compromised while you’re traveling. Some trips from Buying Business Travel include turning off Bluetooth on your devices and taking note of smart TVs as new sources of data collection. Plus, make sure to do a back-up before you leave just in case. This is on top of common sense like avoiding the use of public wifi for work.
Communicate with your boss: If a destination seems like it is too unsafe or if you are feeling too burned out, communicate about that and see if there is a colleague who can go in your place. Your boss might be more responsive if you go into the conversation with a plan already in mind that will accomplish the same job. Enter the conversation with a few possibilities in mind as suggestions so that you seem proactive and you are still trying to meet the goals of why you’re traveling.
What Companies Can Do:
Offer resources for travelers: According to Chen, “corporate travel managers may provide some advice and assistances to help business travelers overcome travel stress. Self-management, stress relaxation, trip preparation and educational workshops can be applied to better prepare and help business travelers cope with their stress.”
Offering resources for travelers,
providing down time,
letting employees keep their points,
and putting people first are tips
for any company to assist in
decreasing travel stress.
Consider the importance of down time: A reasonable amount of down time between trips allows employees to reconnect with their families and enjoy their own homes as a place of recovery before the next trip. Some employees might be comfortable with just a few days between trips while others might need a week. Being open to communication about travel can only benefit the traveler and the company.
Encourage employees to take their vacation time & provide policies that support flexible vacation/time off: A June 2017 article in the Journal of Accountancy detailed "The Business Reasons To Take A Vacation." Reasons to encourage employees to take their vacation aren't only to avoid a big payout at the end of the year for unused vacation, but also "to avoid burnout, to come back to work refreshed, or to spend time with loved ones who might have been neglected during busy season or a time-consuming project." Plus, one employer quoted in the article said that "Any company that promotes and encourages life/work balance is going to be a preferred company to work for in the future."
Let the employee keep their points: If the employee is in the seat on the plane for the express purpose of accomplishing some task for the company, they’re the ones who deserve the points. Yes, they can use those points later for their own travel paid for by the company, but they’re also enduring all the stress of traveling and they’re probably spending a lot more time working than they would usually. It sounds like they’ve earned it.
Remember that your employees are people first: “Implement well-prepared travel programs and policies that address employees' travel stressors and help them reduce physical and psychological strain” (Chen). In other words, keep in mind that your employees are humans with full complete lives, so companies should remember this as they put into practice clear, practical policies in place to meet the needs of those humans.
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