Over the past 2 years we have really started to see a greater focus on travel wellbeing across the global business travel industry. During the Business Travel Show in London during February this year, we saw many exhibitors showcasing their insights, technology or community support to wellbeing. Little did we know at that point the changes and challenges that the travel industry would face just one month later.
At the point of the show we were trying to help raise greater awareness of the risks and challenges that we as travelers face when we are asked to go about our daily business. I am very proud to be supporting this further through my relationship as a co-founder of the Business Travel Wellbeing Community. This community brings together the who’s who of travel wellbeing. Supporting the conversation from all angles, mental and physical health, sleep, culture, academia, nutrition plus many more areas to be considered.
Whilst the formation of this community is great, the industry is now seeking clearer guidance to what corporates can actually do to improve wellbeing, also challenging the question – is this even the travel industry’s responsibility? For me the answer to this question is clear – I want this industry to show more care, kindness and compassion. Travel is tiring, travel can be complex, and with it comes numerous anxieties. Imagine now the increase in those anxieties when travel is permitted once more.
So what’s the plan now? How can we take this pause in our travel programs to do good? Here are my Top 5 suggestions for the industry to discuss, digest, debate and hopefully agree will all help to add flavour to this conversation.
1. Engage with your Travelers
Now is the time to engage with your travel community and spend time reviewing the priorities of the programme
Survey your travellers now. Surveys should include intelligent questioning around the individual habits within the current travel programme. This should be Anonymous.
Example questions to ask:
– When you stay in a hotel property do you stay in your room / eat in your room?
– When you travel do you feel that you have sufficient time to recover from your trip?
– What would you like when you travel to make your trip feel more like being at home?
– Do you struggle with anxieties when you are travelling?
– Have you travelled in the past 12 months unnecessarily?
The results and feedback on the above questions can help a travel manager to form a better understanding of the overall key elements that a programme should encourage. More colleague engagement / connection and interaction, or property choices that offer home comforts or deliver to personal expectations – running routes / gym facilities / social events or a good night sleep.
As individual travelers we are the ones that know what we need. But we are rarely ever asked.
2. Travel Policy Wellbeing Review
Does your travel policy encourage travellers to maintain positive mental and physical wellbeing when they travel? Can you read ‘we care’ in the policy?
How does your policy score in the following sections?:
- Travel Wellbeing as a specific topic for policy/guidelines
- Safety of travel
- Security of travel
- Risk analysis
- Rest and Recovery / Sleep
- Nutritional and hydration support
3. Travel Managers have to work with Managers of Travelers
We are an industry that has in the past expected the Travel Manager / or Travel Leader to attempt to pick up wellbeing and work it into a company culture and structure. This is unlikely to work well if there is push back from Managers. Now is the time for Travel Managers (Owners) to work closely with the Managers of Travelers.
One such approach would be to offer alternative perspectives of the travel data. If the travel manager can interpret (or the TMC Account Manager) the data with a wellbeing focus (alongside the traditional measurements of volume, transactions, savings and compliance of course) then we can engage in a new conversation. If the manager of the traveler understands the potential wellbeing impact to their employee, maybe they will be more considerate and supporting?
Suggested review points:
- Weekend travelers – identify those who travel frequently over weekends
- Frequent long-haul travel
- Regular short-haul long day travel
- Class of travel v impact to wellbeing
- Absenteeism / Exit interviews (HR challenges and not always just focused on Travel).
4. Education for Managers to understand the impact of travel on their employees
We need to encourage organizations to provide basic Mental Health awareness and support skills for managers – understanding the mental impact of travel. Increases to Anxiety and recognising those who might be at higher risk – see point 3 above.
Managers should engage in conversations at the human level. How are people feeling, are they fit to travel, and most importantly do they have sufficient time to recover post trip? We will see new standards of travel emerge through this crisis, which will no doubt all have an impact on the anxiety levels of those who travel.
We also need better processes to check if a trip is really necessary. What will be the value of the event / meeting / trip. -v- Can this be done through alternative means? Managers have a vested interest in challenging the need for the travel, even more now as we are also exploring alternatives to travel that can be utilised for those shorter meetings and discussions.
I was never asked how I felt by a manager before or after I travelled. Now is the time to educate and encourage this conversation.
5. HR Engagement and Senior Level Sponsorship
Through all of this processing and review we really need HR to champion improvements in mental health, wellbeing and physical fitness across the employee experience (beyond just travel). We want our employees to have the tools in place to thrive in their job. At all points of employment we want to feel that we are working for a company that cares. When the pressures of work increase significantly (higher goals, targets and objectives) we need to remind ourselves that first and foremost we are all humans.
Executive sponsors are the ones that can support the launch of a ‘Healthy’ Travel Program. Remember that Travel Should be an ENABLER – Not a DISABLER