Ask the experts: why is traveller wellbeing important for your programme?

WHILE DUTY-OF-CARE CONSIDERATIONS HAVE RISEN TO THE TOP of travel buyers’ agendas, these are mostly centred on traveller safety and security. Health and wellbeing of travellers may not quite be an afterthought, but rarely comes out as a major priority in surveys.

One reason for this may be the difficulty in quantifying the success of health and wellbeing initiatives within companies, and specifically the impact of travel on employees’ health and productivity.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel has been one of few travel suppliers to tackle the issue, and its Stress Index has pinpointed 33 triggers of stress for travellers – missing bags and having no internet were the biggest factors.

Consultant Scott Gillespie, from T Clara, has developed the notion of ‘trip friction’, which looks at the wear and tear on employees who have to undertake regular ‘poor quality’ travel. These developments suggest that health and wellbeing is starting, at least, to be taken more seriously by corporates.

The buyer

Global travel manager for European-based communications company

WE TRY TO DO WHATEVER WE CAN FOR TRAVELLERS before and during their trips, which includes handling the impact of any disruptions, rather than leaving them to do it, which will increase their stress levels. I also have a flexible purchasing strategy where I will try to get employees home earlier than originally planned if I think that will help them time-wise.
All those extra hours spent at airports are basically lost. What do we want travellers to do while they are sitting in the aeroplane? Can we help them to use those hours better for work or rest? I think that can have a big impact on workload stress and wellbeing.

It’s important to understand total cost ownership, including indirect and employer costs such as travel time, salary, sick leave and so on. Decisions should also be made in line with company KPIs [key perfor¬mance indicators] and HR policy: if we invest money in preventative wellbeing, then travel decisions should be made in line with this. When we choose hotels, we ask what services should be included in the room rate that can help wellbeing?

If we support travellers when they travel long-haul, they should not have a huge workload when they come back to the office. The main principle is that travellers sleep when they fly back – if they can’t sleep, then they will be tired and this will affect their performance the next day.
Is it more important to save money on an airline ticket or pay a little bit more and not lose their performance in the next few days? Management needs to understand the ROI [return on investment] of travel spend if we propose premium economy or business instead of cheaper economy.

The most important thing for me as a travel manager is to listen to my travellers and also think: would I do that myself? If I wouldn’t do that myself, how can I expect that from others? Companies need to be flexible for travellers, as it’s a two-way street if we want to keep them working for us for a long time.

The TMC

Vincent Lebunetel, vice-president, corporate innovation, Carlson Wagonlit Travel

COMPANIES ASSESS TRAVEL SUPPLIERS IN MANY WAYS, with the ticket price the main focus for travellers and travel managers alike. However, there are several other factors that should be looked into if we want to lessen pain points and improve productivity. For air, for example, these include carriers’ on-time performance, luggage delivery times and legroom between seats. For hotels, traveller reviews are critical – it’s especially helpful to look at those from colleagues – as well as the hotel’s proxim¬ity in relation to any meeting location.
Technology is an enabler of a wider cultural change. When organisations consider travel as an investment rather than a cost, they will see traveller wellbeing as an asset that can foster greater productivity.

When flight disruption occurs – approximately one in ten flights – travel¬ler stress increases and productivity is impacted. Technology is critical to soften the pain points travellers experience, but also to proactively and quickly find alternative options.

Another important factor when looking at the economy-versus-business class de¬cision is the trip purpose. If an employee is travelling to negotiate a critical piece of business, it will likely require more preparation than an internal meeting or training. It follows that in this situation, comfort and support are critical to achiev¬ing the company’s business objectives, as the employee will be able to walk off the aircraft rested and more prepared.

We know that happy employees stay with a company for longer, but this doesn’t just relate to the travel policy – working conditions, daily commute and other organisational aspects are all factors. Travel can be one of the key components in this equation, especially in industries where companies are fighting to attract and retain the best talent.

The consultant

Tracey Randell, nutritionist, Healthy Aspirations (former travel buyer for Viacom)

IT’S IMPORTANT TO MITIGATE THE EFFECTS OF STRESS. There are many varied stresses on the human body, but stress is very subjective – some people thrive on it and others are laid low by being a bit stressed.

With travel there are a lot of poten¬tial stress points, such as getting to the airport and then to the departure gate on time. Class of travel may help to mitigatethe effects and, if you have access to a lounge and emails, then that can stop you feeling like work is building up while you’re travelling.

The key is being prepared for the trip and having knowledge of the destina¬tion. Factors such as the effect of different time zones and sleep-deprivation should be considered.
Women are particularly affected by business travel because of other obligations in their lives, such as looking after children or elderly parents – though, of course, this can apply to men, too. The point is, travel plays a part on top of these other life stresses.

Make sure you have a wellness policy in place, which looks at work-life balance. Help travellers to de-stress naturally by giving them advice on nutrition and how to travel healthily and safely – exercise done properly can also mitigate stress.

In an ideal world, the company would promote a culture of health – if people don’t have access to a canteen, you could still give them healthy eating guidelines and information about where to eat in the local environment. You could also encourage exercise though subsidised gym membership, and run initiatives about weight loss.

From a travel point of view, more consideration should be given to the effects of travel on an individual. You could give employees a duvet-day when they arrive back from a long-haul trip or have a policy that they are not expected to look at any work emails for at least six hours after arriving. If they go on holiday, then there could be a policy that they turn their company phones off. Ultimately, it’s about treating travellers as valued human beings.