3 Ways to Keep Business Travel from Burning Out Employees

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Mar 18, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Employee burnout is on the rise, with some estimates as high as $323 billion as the annual cost of burnout to the global economy. Business travel is often a source of burnout that HR departments either don’t realize or struggle to address; however, not doing so runs the risk of alienating employees and undercutting productivity while on the road. While business travel may not be a primary concern today with restrictions in place due to COVID-19, it will continue being an issue once organizations resume traveling regularly again. It’s worth looking at travel policies and processes during this time.

With one in five business travelers feeling that traveling for work has a negative impact on their mental health, companies must prioritize their business travel policies. They also need to take their employees’ concerns seriously in order to mitigate loss in productivity and even help in recruiting and retaining top talent in the long run.

1. Create flexible travel policies

Much of the stress business travelers are feeling might actually be because many hold the perception that HR doesn’t necessarily understand or aren’t equipped to handle the demands of business travelers. One in six business travelers says that their company’s travel policies are difficult to understand and that they have an outdated approach to booking travel. This disconnect has to be remedied because another one in six said they’d be more productive if they had more say in when/how they traveled.

Organizations can start bridging the divide in small ways by bringing flexibility into the equation, particularly regarding accommodation options and flexible flight dates. More than one in three business travelers want more options to choose from when booking travel (e.g., opting to stay in an Airbnb), and one in three want to be able to change their flight if they want to stay longer/leave earlier. These small, flexible considerations go a long way into easing the toll travel takes on a business travelers’ mental health and boost their overall productivity for the company. This flexibility can also be boosted by bringing new technologies into the workplace designed to facilitate better business travel.

2. Empower employees through technology

Ultimately, business travelers want the usual comforts any traveler wants, and the best way for companies to deliver is giving back some of that control over the booking and travel process to the employee through implementing new technologies.

Technology can offer employees more control over the travel experience, with 1 in 10 business travelers feeling like they don’t have any control over the booking process and 1 in 8 wishing their company trusted them more to book their own travel. There are a number of corporate booking options out there than can help HR departments make sure employees stay within policy and budget, while simultaneously taking some of the pressure off of the department and letting employees decide when and where they want to stay.

Additionally, the pressure to be ‘on’ while traveling is a major path to burnout – just about 29 percent of business travelers said they feel like they have to be available constantly (checking email, available via phone, etc.) while traveling for work. HR departments need to focus on providing the right tech resources for traveling employees so they can spend time fighting for a connection rather than prepping for a presentation. Twenty-two percent of business travelers have been behind on work while traveling because of something as simple as poor Wi-Fi connectivity. If you’re sending employees on the road without the proper technology, it’s inevitable stress is going to mount, burn them out and cost the company precious productivity.

3. Make work travel feel like a perk

If HR departments fail to give business travel policies the attention they deserve and take employee concerns seriously, they risk significant loss in productivity and even a dip in job enjoyment. At the end of the day, business travel should feel like a perk, and any HR department thinking through recruitment and retention strategies is thinking about how to make the perks feel competitive. One in five business travelers said they’d consider changing jobs or taking a job because it offered ‘bleisure’ travel perks, such as staying extra days, seeing the sights, bringing their family, etc.

A day or two extra while traveling can have a significant positive impact on morale and productivity. It not only lessens the stress on the traveler but can result in stronger connections to new teams (if they’re visiting another office), client connections, and other tangible moments that boost overall happiness. Expensify is a great example of a company living this kind of mentality. In essence, employees have the option to choose which offices they want to visit each year and regularly take the entire company to a new city for a week-long trip to work and play. The blending between business and leisure travel is growing in momentum, and it’s an easy way for many HR departments to begin making business travel feel like the perk it should be.

Changing up travel policies is not easy, despite the warning signs of burnout that might be popping up with employees. Most HR departments likely view this as a major undertaking, with a lot of red tape to navigate before genuine change can be made. However, if they start small – adding in flexibility where stakes are low, utilizing robust business travel booking platforms and getting up to speed on the bleisure movement, they can give employees more power over their own bookings, budgets, and happiness – and eventually see those results in productivity and retention numbers.

If you would like to read the entirety of NexTravel’s productivity report, please head here.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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