The corporate-drone meme hit it big with Generation X in the
late 1990s. Think Radiohead's "OK Computer" or Mike Judge's cult
movie classic, "Office Space."
Described as distrustful and alienated in their formative
years, Xers now are welcoming to the workforce the sharing- and
communication-oriented Millennials. To further generalize, both groups are
trying to learn from prior generations and shun lifestyles that revolve around
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all charted data, downloadable as a pdf.]
Business travel can be appealing, especially to those
without partners or dependents, but this study seeks to identify the extent to
which companies are building sustainable approaches to business travel and its
place in the lives of employees. It also observes that the rules of work-life
balance are changing.
Much of the story is about technology, but there is a
massive human side to policing karma. What can travel managers do to support
the health, safety and—we're in this to make money, after all—productivity of
company employees? What are the hidden costs of traveling for work, and can
they cross the bottom line?
More than two-thirds of surveyed corporate travel managers
told Business Travel News that
frequent business travel has a positive impact on travelers' personal health,
71 percent indicated it's positive for productivity and more than four in five
said business travel positively affects employees' willingness to remain at the
Yet, responding buyers also had concerns. More travel
managers indicated that they were dissatisfied with the way their companies
address the impact of business travel on travelers than said they were
satisfied. Concerns about travelers' health and willingness to stay at the firm
weighed heaviest, followed by safety and productivity. Perhaps this is due to
some satisfaction buyers have that their companies have addressed safety and
security through tracking, intelligence and travel management company action
plans. Productivity improvements, they may figure, march on of their own
While some worried about travel's effect on employee job
satisfaction or well-being, responding travel managers reaffirmed that spend
control remains a far higher priority for their programs. This is
well-documented, of course. In this BTN
survey, when buyers were asked to designate one of four options as the primary
method their firms use to measure travel program success, a plurality chose
year-over-year travel savings (43 percent). The remainder selected performance
within budget (33 percent), cost avoidance (15 percent) and traveler
satisfaction (9 percent).
Similarly, when asked for the most important criterion on
which they base airline, hotel and car rental supplier selection, "lowest
negotiable rate" outscored "highest service level" by two to
one. Elite status perks were the most important criteria for well under 10
percent of buyers.
Perhaps some of this is to be expected, when one is asked to
rank the single most important criterion or priority. However, when asked
whether attracting and retaining talented employees was a consideration in
creating travel policies, fully 62 percent said no.
Respondents whose companies do consider job satisfaction and
employee retention in travel policies cited as typical benefits allowing
employees to retain loyalty points and permitting premium-class travel. The
company "wants to be recognized as a good place to work," one travel
"Definitely there is pressure on cost savings, but
there is also the pressure on work-life balance—it can sometimes be a very thin
line between them," said Unilever procurement manager for global travel
services Yvonne Moya in an interview. At Unilever, travel policy allows
business class for flights of more than three hours. "It's really about
helping employees travel smarter and working with our preferred partners to
fulfill both goals on duty of care and cost savings," Moya continued. "We
do recognize people need to work and rest. We will not put people on planes for
12 hours in economy class. But we tell people to use premium class wisely,
because we will see if they don't."
The specific impacts of business travel on work-life balance
have not been widely studied, but some new data points have emerged.
After examining 13,000 medical records in a corporate
wellness plan, Columbia University researchers last year tied excessive business travel to poor health and suggested corporations may want to consider
the availability of fitness facilities in hotel property selection, offer
reimbursement incentives for healthy eating and incorporate employee stress
Carlson Wagonlit Travel this year initiated related research
and advisory services. A survey of more than 6,000 employees from nine of its
corporate accounts pointed to a need to examine the hidden costs of business
travel, in particular those caused by lost or delayed luggage, poor Internet
connections, long-haul flights in economy and delays. CWT asked respondents to
score the intensity of 33 stress factors when planning, taking and getting
reimbursed for trips, which it then grouped into three categories: lost time, a
situation in which work is difficult or impossible; surprises, when an
unforeseen event occurs; and routine-breakers, in which travelers are unable to
maintain their habits.
CWT found that travel stress was higher for women, older
employees, more frequent travelers and senior executives. CWT highlighted
economy-class policies as an example of ways policy can drive up hidden costs
related to business traveler well-being.
"Travelers need to focus on being productive,"
said Vincent Lebunetel, head of CWT Solutions Group for Europe, Middle East and
Africa. "Their companies are not paying them to travel."
Travel management is "not just about cost, but also
duty of care," Lebunetel continued. "We need to involve procurement,
but also HR and corporate social responsibility departments. We believe these
are hidden costs in terms of an inability to work, which we'll be measuring and
translating into missed savings. We'll also advise having adaptive travel
policies—not just looking at the overall result, but more about digging into
demographic segments. We find people reacting differently, and companies that
want travelers to reduce their stress and improve productivity should work
Profiling the traveler population and taking into account
levels of responsibility, frequency of travel and whether an employee has
partners or dependents can help companies assess the risks of traveler-related
Martha Ferguson, Interpublic Group of Companies senior
manager for EMEA travel operations and global corporate card, described one way
that policies can be tailored to those most impacted by frequent travel—the
oft-dreaded exception. "Our company is full of exceptions where it makes
sense, even down to giving someone a platinum card for the added benefits and
the extra points because this is a guy with a young family who is on the road
more than he is at home," she said. "The CFO will come to me, because
I also manage the global corporate card program, and say, 'As a company, it is
the least we can do for this guy.' Platinum cards are not the policy in our
company, so that's where an exception is."
Cognizant global travel manager Kathy Kaden said her firm is
flexible with policy. "There are not a lot of firm and fast 'musts,' "
she said. "We know they're not happy on the road every week, so we want to
make sure they're as happy and comfortable as possible." Sometimes, she
noted, additional comfort isn't even more expensive. "Someone might want
to stay at a hotel that is $10 more, but they're a platinum member and they will
get their breakfast and free Wi-Fi and an evening reception, etc. Then it
becomes less expensive for them to stay where they want to stay than to stay in
the company hotel. That helps shape the program."
Kaden was surprised that nearly two-thirds of polled travel
buyers indicated their companies do not consider employee retention when
setting travel policies. "To me, that's really odd," she said. "That's
something which is really important to us. It even comes down to the hotels we
use for recruits."
BCD Travel senior vice president of strategic marketing
April Bridgeman argued that there is room for customization in structured
managed travel programs.
"Recognizing that someone goes to the same place every
Monday, and always books the same flight, and used to stay at a certain hotel
but no longer does because they've had 10 complaints—and that's all because of
what they've learned as travelers in other settings—is a capability in a
managed business travel program that makes people more productive," said Bridgeman.
"The industry certainly isn't there, but it's absolutely where we need to
It's likely that some portion of business travelers will
report negative effects of business travel in any survey, but not all road
warriors are burnouts in waiting. Many business travelers feel confident and
optimistic about conducting business on the road, as recently noted by a
Fairfield Inn & Suites survey of 1,001 of those who take at least three
trips a year. "Business travelers desire better work-life balance and more
benefits, including compensation and vacation days," according to
Fairfield. "Still, most are satisfied with their travel experiences and
would not change the amount they have traveled for work."
A Cambria Suites/GBTA Foundation survey answered in August
by more than 400 travelers with at least four trips in the prior 12 months
found nine in 10 agreed that "work-life balance is an important goal."
Seventy-one percent of respondents said the key to achieving it was focusing on
"work-life productivity" while traveling.
A blending of work and home activities is the solution for
some. "It's not so much work-life balance anymore as it is work-life
integration," said Agilent Technologies worldwide travel director Cindy
Message. This is energized by mobile technology, but the smartphone-fueled
disappearance of work-home boundaries may have negative consequences.
Child-safety experts quoted in a September Wall Street Journal report said a
documented spike in children's injuries likely was due to distracted,
Sixty-four percent of more than 200 travel professionals
responding to a 2010 survey by Germany's University of Applied Science at
Heilbronn indicated mobile technology had a positive influence on their
work-life balance, but 42 percent said the impact was negative. Three in four
cited an "enormous" increase in productivity from mobile devices. "Whether
a positive or a negative influence is felt may vary from situation to situation
and is depending on each business traveler's approach in handling mobile
technology in a responsible way," the Heilbronn researchers wrote. The
survey was sponsored by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives,
DuntonTinnus Consulting and SAP.
In the BTN
research, willingness to remain at the company, health, safety and productivity
did not appear to be business-travel-related concerns for most travelers
surveyed. On average, they also largely were satisfied with how their companies
address the effects of business travel. A large portion of responding business
travelers indicated their employers allow travelers flexible hours (57 percent)
and working from home (46 percent). Remote conferencing is permitted or
encouraged by companies employing 43 percent of respondents.
Still, nearly one in five travelers surveyed said business
travel has a negative effect on their personal health.
Corporate travel managers and buyers may be in the people
business, but most organizations include an entity that is even more so.
According to this research, one in five human resources departments are not at
all involved with the creation of company travel policies. Forty-four percent
of respondents said HR was somewhat or very involved.
In the HR world, support for flexible workforces and less
work-centric livelihoods is gaining momentum, largely based on research showing
that professionals increasingly value their personal time.
The National Study of Employers is "the most
comprehensive and far-reaching study of the practices, policies, programs and
benefits provided by U.S. employers to address the changing needs of today's
workforce and workplace," according to co-sponsors at the Families and
Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. The 2012 study of
more than 1,100 employers noted key shifts even compared with results of seven
years earlier on what organizations allow at least some employees to do: 77
percent, up from 66 percent, let them "use flex time and periodically
change starting and quitting times within some range of hours;" 87
percent, up from 77 percent, let them "take time off during the workday to
attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay;" and 63
percent, up from 34 percent, let them "work some of their regular paid
hours at home on an occasional basis."
According to the FWI-SHRM study's authors, "the
American workforce has had a number of major transitions throughout history,
when societal, economic and technological trends transformed work, workers and
workplaces. We are currently experiencing such a shift as increased workplace
opportunities for women, investment in home life by men, growing global
economic pressures and continually improving communications technology alter
the ways in which women and men manage their work, personal and family lives."
SHRM president and CEO Henry Jackson added, "As we look
ahead, it is clear that in order to remain competitive, employers must find ways
to offer flexible work options if they want to attract and retain top talent."
Once again assuming stereotypes are permitted as factors to
consider in shaping policy, FWI and SHRM found that professional Gen-Xers were "less
likely to want jobs with more responsibility (37 percent) than non-professional
Gen-X employees (47 percent). This finding should concern employers as Gen-X
employees are the next generation in line to assume many leadership roles as
the Boomers retire. Employers looking to maintain a talent pipeline will need
to consider how to keep all employees engaged, not only with their jobs, but
also with their career tracks." Similar assessments applied to
Millennials, according to the study. These characteristics were attributed to a
desire among younger employees for more personal and family time. "Therefore,
improved flexibility options for professionals, especially younger
professionals, may be an effective way to motivate employees to seek positions
with greater responsibility," the researchers concluded.
In 2004, Deloitte, Exxon Mobil, General Electric, IBM,
Johnson & Johnson and other corporations released with the Families and
Work Institute a study that uncovered this shift. Gen-X workers, they found,
were "more likely to be 'family-centric' or 'dual-centric' (with equal
priorities on both career and family) and less 'work-centric' (putting higher
priority on their jobs than family) compared to members of the Boomer
More appealing places to work, apparently, also are more successful.
A 2003 study by a University of New Mexico professor of 130 announcements of
family-friendly policies published in the Wall Street Journal showed the new
thinking resulted in significantly improved share prices. The Academy of Management Journal in 2000 announced a study of 527
U.S. companies that found that those with "more extensive work-family
policies" enjoyed higher perceived performance within their industries.
originally appeared in the Oct. 22, 2012, edition of Business Travel News.