Ensuring traveller wellbeing for best-practice duty of care

20 April 2017
With ever increasing pressure on the bottom lines, businesses are closely scrutinising their spending. More often than not travel budget is the first casualty in businesses' battle to cut costs. Focusing only on travel costs without understanding the potential impact on traveller safety and their work performance, however, may lead to bigger financial losses in terms of productivity, sickness absence and health issues in the long run.  

For HR and travel managers, many travel benefits might simply be "nice-to-haves" and are not considered essentials for business travellers. There is, however, a delicate link between ensuring traveller wellbeing and their safety and security, and on a broader level, travel risk management. Given employers' Duty of Care obligations to their mobile workforce, it is important that employers do not inadvertently neglect or sacrifice traveller wellbeing and safety in their efforts to save costs. Ensuing accidents as a result of business negligence could lead to significant financial, reputational and legal consequences for employers, not to mention any potential human costs.   

Collinson highlights several key aspects in a traveller's journey where proper consideration should be given in employers' travel policy so that an optimal balance between cost savings and employees' wellbeing and productivity can be achieved.

1.      Class of travel

Many companies expect their staff to travel in economy, even on long-haul flights that cross multiple time zones, although business class travel is far more likely to afford travellers the opportunity to sleep and rest. Employers need to ask themselves if the loss of productivity due to tiredness, which could impact the objective and desired outcome of the trips, would be worth the financial savings. From the safety perspective, if employees need to drive following a long flight, should employer consider an upgrade to business to ensure they are well rested? If a premium travel ticket is not financially feasible, can the employer arrange an airport pickup service for the travellers instead? The discussion here is not about advocating a certain travel class, rather it is about the need for employers to be mindful of their Duty of Care and to take into account influencing factors - such as the full trip itinerary, age and health of the traveller, and recovery time in territory - when making decisions so they do not unintentionally put the health and safety of their road warriors at risk.

Similarly, price should not be the only and dominant factor when choosing the carrier. Safety and   maintenance records as well as total travel time should also be considered, especially when employees are travelling to remote or less developed regions. Certain airlines might offer cheaper fares in exchange of multiple stopovers, which could be a huge stress factor for employees. It shows that cost is not the only determinant and employers must give consideration to myriad of factors.

2.      Access to airport lounges

Most business travellers would relish the opportunity to work in a quiet space in order to make the best use of their journey time and to remain productive, or quite simply to get away from the hustles and bustles of airports. Especially at times of flight delays or extended transiting hours, airport lounges can become a much welcome resort for travellers who just need a quiet place to rest and refresh themselves. Besides, with airports being a highly visible target for terrorist attacks, airport lounges may incentivise travellers to get to the airside as quickly as possible where access is more limited compared to the public departure hall. As in many cases, well-rested employees are better in making decisions and much more alert to their environments - both desirable qualities for business travellers who have to navigate themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.

3.      Hotels

Booking employees into cheaper accommodation without fully vetting the hotel facilities, its location and surroundings, can present a real threat to employees' safety in a foreign environment. Hotels located in business areas are more tailored to the needs of business travellers and their locations are usually well supported by transportation infrastructure. Employees can also reduce their travel time if they are staying in areas closer to their business meetings. Hotels targeting business travellers are likely to offer recreational facilities such as a pool or a gym, providing travellers the means to achieve a better work/life balance in an otherwise hectic travelling schedule which can help contribute to their productivity.  Ultimately though, it is essential that companies - with potential support from their travel risk partners - have measures and regular assessment in place to evaluate the safety of their approved hotels, especially in high risk countries. High profile western hotel chains, for example, might be a likelier target for terrorist attacks than a local hotel.

4.      Bleisure

"Bleisure" has been a growing trend. Assuming parameters are laid out, such as a limit to the number of days employees can add on to a business assignment and the understanding that any leisure costs are self-financed, combining business with pleasure gives employees the opportunity to attain cultural knowledge and alleviate work stress. Employers however have a moral imperative to ensure that staff who bolt leisure time on to a business trip are informed of any limitations to the cover provided by the company, whether in terms of pure insurance coverage or in depth pre-travel risk assessment and support. If corporate policies do not accommodate leisure stays, then staff should be made aware of the need to arrange their own cover over this period.

Travel risk management is often not valued until something goes wrong, but Duty of Care can under no circumstances be compromised as it is a legal obligation but also a moral imperative of employers. Firms need to provide proper support pre-travel and during travel and undertake necessary measures to ensure the travel safety of their much valued mobile workforce. Is pre-travel risk assessment conducted for particularly high risk destinations? Do employees know how to seek help if they find themselves in a security or medical emergency? Is there an employee assistance programme (EAP) in place to track quantity of trips to reduce the possibility of burnout? These are just some of the questions that employers need to reflect on in their travel policy.     

Randall Gordon-Duff, Head of Product, Corporate Travel, Collinson, said: "There will always be a need for firms to watch their business travel expenses - this is a fact that goes hand-in-hand with operating in a competitive, commercial environment. Not every company will need to invest in business travel tickets or high-end hotels, or even buy a flexible ticket - this is wholly understandable and such investments certainly aren't needed for all cases.

"However, companies should evaluate what they are offering to their employees in the context of their wellbeing and how that might link to travel risks within a broader framework. We are increasingly seeing a convergence between what business travellers must have, and what previously might have been considered as simply nice-to-haves. Employees' productivity needs to be predicated on safety and health first and foremost, before they can make a positive business impact. The lower the quality of a trip, the higher the human costs in the form of fatigue, work overload, impact on personal relationships and a poor work/life balance among others. .   

"Increasingly, employers are addressing such travellers' pain points. Better trip quality means better business impact and when travellers are well looked after, risks to their health and safety are mitigated. The optimal results between cost containment and ensuring staff performance in a safe and productive environment can only be achieved when travel management is not only viewed solely through the lens of financial matrix."

For more information please contact: PR@collinsongroup.com.