Many of a company’s most valuable employees are those that spend much of their working life on the road. For the team members that are at the core of driving revenue--sales reps, those managing suppliers, key partners, or account managers--frequent travel is imperative to their role and their company’s success.
To keep these employees both happy and healthy, it’s critical that employers take steps to look after their team-members’ well-being while on the road. This is made even more apparent following recently-released data from Columbia University that people who travel for business two weeks or more per month report more symptoms of anxiety and depression and are more likely to smoke, be sedentary, and report trouble sleeping. Columbia research also previously reported that road warriors who travel for business two weeks or more a month have higher body mass index and higher rates of obesity than those who travel less often.
While the cost of replacing top performing executives can be up to 213 percent of their salary, the human cost to an organization that loses its key team members to travel-induced burnout can be much worse. So, what can entrepreneurs and company owners do to help their traveling employees in better shape, both physically and mentally?
Employee-friendly travel schedules
Many organizations’ travel and expense policies – particularly smaller companies which are required to watch spend more closely – mandate that their employees take either the lowest possible air fare or the lowest logical air fare (which is typically the lowest fare with the least amount of layovers). While this can benefit the company’s finances in the short-term, these flights can often be at inconvenient hours, leading to employees needing to leave earlier, arrive later, or spend more time in airports than higher priced fares. While this may not prove to be excessively onerous for occasional travelers, those who are frequently on the road would benefit from the ability to book flights which may be more expensive, but provide a more traveler- and family-friendly schedule.
For companies that have a detailed travel policy in place, it would be wise to allow a greater tolerance over lowest fare guidelines in order to facilitate more reasonable travel schedules for road warriors. While this could typically mean letting travelers choose flights that arrive and depart at more sociable hours, or don’t leave travelers lingering in distant airports for hours on end, it could also mean relaxing a policy on business class flights, for example. If someone is expected to fly for several hours and walk straight into a high-profile meeting that could potentially generate a significant amount of company revenue, is it really worth the savings to make someone fly in the back of the plane, if it means that they will arrive tired and frustrated?
Cater for employee well-being on the road
It’s not just the travel itself that can have a negative impact on the employee’s health, but also how they behave while away from home. Of course, employers can’t mandate that their team live a healthy life on business trips, or hold their hand as they walk past the burger chain and head to the smoothie bar. However, they can make travel policy changes that guide their team in the right direction when it comes to living more healthily on the road.
- More reasonable dining allowance: how much does your company’s dining policy allow for lunch? While $15 may be enough to grab a sandwich and a soda from the deli, or a burger and fries from a chain, these are rarely healthy choices. Once in a while this may not matter, but when fast food become staples of your diet, it could lead to health issues. Healthier options, such as salads, can often require a more expensive – sit-down – restaurant, but this could be better in the long term.
- Avoiding DVT: Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) can impact people who sit for prolonged periods, especially in more confined spaces. A classic example of this is a long-haul flight in a cramped economy-class seats. While the incidence of DVT is still low among healthy travelers, it can still be fatal for those who seemingly have no other major medical issues. In addition to educating long-haul travelers on DVT and how to eliminate it, providing frequent long-haul travelers with business (or at least premium economy) seats with greater legroom will lower the risk of them developing DVT.
- Wellbeing perks: While many upscale hotels have gyms and pools available for residents, they aren’t ubiquitous. If your preferred hotel provider doesn’t have its own gym, consider investing in memberships to a chain gym for your frequent travelers to visit while on the road. Maybe invest in Fitbits for your team and gamify exercise, by providing prizes for those who walk the most steps each day. Alternatively, as the evening default for teams on the road is a restaurant followed by the bar, offering to reimburse travelers for movie tickets or bowling, for example, could encourage them to go easy on the alcohol (which could have multiple benefits!).
While these ideas may seem like they apply mainly to organizations with substantial traveling workforces, they apply just as equally to those who lead small companies, and even individual entrepreneurs. Although there is certainly often a strong temptation for entrepreneurs to focus on cost control, and putting the needs of the business ahead of their own personal well-being, the evidence from the Columbia University research shows that this mentality could have considerable negative consequences in the long-run.
By creating an expense policy that allows for employees to make smarter, more healthy decisions while away on business, can lead to a happier, fitter, and more productive team. It can help reduce churn, lower days lost to ill-health and ultimately increase profits.
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