JOHANNESBURG – In the modern era of corporate travel, companies are investing heavily in ensuring the well-being of their employees on the move. From ergonomic travel tools to nutritious meals on the go, the focus has shifted from merely reaching a destination to ensuring the holistic well-being of the traveller. But as businesses lean heavily into this trend, a pertinent question emerges: Are we taking it too far?
The Rise of Overindulgence
A recently published white paper on business travel and wellness sheds light on the evolution of corporate travel policies. While wellness initiatives in the realm of business travel started as genuine efforts to ensure the health and happiness of employees, there’s growing concern that the pendulum might be swinging too far in the direction of overindulgence.
Bonnie Smith, GM FCM, notes, “While it’s essential to prioritise the well-being of our employees, we must find a balance. It’s about ensuring comfort without compromising the essence of work.”
The Challenge of Striking a Balance
The crux of the matter is finding the right equilibrium. While initiatives that genuinely prioritise mental and physical health are indispensable, there’s a danger of blurring the lines between work and leisure too much.
Take, for instance, the introduction of ‘nap pods’ and ‘paw-some offices’ (where pets are welcome). While Gen Z might take a day off for mental health without batting an eyelid, Baby Boomers would likely scoff at the very idea. While these perks can enhance the work environment for some, for others, especially those from older generations, they might seem unnecessary or even distracting.
The white paper reveals that while younger employees might appreciate such perks, older generations might find them superfluous, thus underscoring the challenge businesses face in crafting travel policies that cater to a diverse workforce.
Tailoring Wellness Initiatives for Business Travel
For business travel, the balance becomes even more critical. Did you know that two in five business travellers rate the trip itself as the most stressful part of their journey? Companies must ensure that the wellness initiatives they introduce for their travelling employees are not just perks but tools that reduce stressors and genuinely enhance the travel experience, ensuring better productivity and well-being. This is why “traveller friction” – the term used to describe the stress of frequent travel – is the talk of travel managers.
And, honestly speaking, it needs to pay for the business, too. A study conducted by Harvard shows that for every dollar invested in a wellness programme, companies shave off R40 in absenteeism costs. This isn’t merely a positive outcome; it’s a robust 6-to-1 return on investment.
So how can businesses reap the benefits for the bottom line and their most important asset – the people?
Bonnie Smith emphasises, “In the realm of business travel, wellness is not about luxury. It’s about creating an environment where employees can perform at their best, even when they’re miles away from home.”
The white paper highlights several practical initiatives that businesses can introduce, including:
- Flexible Itineraries: Allowing employees a window of flexibility in their travel schedules. The white paper suggests allowing a 24-hour window for employees to choose their departure and return. For instance, an employee might choose a daytime flight to avoid arriving disoriented at night.
- Accommodation Standards: Ensuring comfortable stays that meet specific criteria. Noisy accommodation is always a no-no; check with your travellers and conduct regular audits.
- Health-focused Amenities: Prioritising accommodations with gyms, wellness centres, and nutritious meal options. Making sure your employees know where to hit the treadmill (if that keeps them sane), even in Timbuktu, will go a long way.
- Mental Health Support: Providing access to mental well-being apps and resources, especially crucial for those dealing with the stresses of travel.
- It’s All about Personalisation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to wellness and wellbeing. Neither is there for a business trip. It starts with knowing your employees. One may want to know where they can hit the treadmill to work off the jetlag, while another may simply need a later start to the next day’s meeting.
- Mental Health is Number One: Consider recommending mental wellbeing apps offering quick relaxation techniques or counselling. A manager feeling overwhelmed during an overseas conference can quickly access a 10-minute guided relaxation session.
- The Right Carry-on: Ensure your travellers have items like ergonomic neck pillows and laptop stands.
- Breaks Between Trips: Ensure there are sufficient breaks between trips. If an employee travels for over five consecutive days, they get a minimum two-day break before the next trip.
- Hello Bleisure: Adopt a “Business+Leisure Balance” clause. For every three business days travelled, allow half a day for leisure.
It’s clear the world of business travel is rapidly evolving, with wellness at its core. While it’s crucial to ensure the well-being of travelling employees, companies must strike the right balance, ensuring that the core objective of the trip isn’t lost in a sea of perks. Remember, it’s not just about perks; it’s about people. And finding that sweet spot will not only keep your employees healthy but will also keep your business humming.
As businesses navigate this new landscape, the words of Bonnie Smith resonate deeply: “Business travel, at its heart, is about achieving objectives. As we introduce wellness initiatives, we must ensure they serve this core purpose, enhancing the journey without overshadowing the destination.”