As with all things, the global pandemic even affected worry! As a symptom of stress, it has become more common in the workplace, wherever that may be in the hybrid model in which many of us operate. In fact, more than half of workers have reported feeling stressed on a daily basis in the past year, in large part due to busier work schedules.
Part of the worry stems from employees’ concern that unless they increase their business travel, their professional and personal lives will suffer. They’re concerned about the ability to develop and maintain business connections, making less money and not advancing in their career.
But even as companies have rebooted corporate travel programs, business travel can be difficult. There’s the preparation, the traveling and the filing of an expense report afterward, not to mention the ever-changing health regulation requirements, flight cancellations/delays and spending time away from home and family. Nearly two in five business travelers rate the trip itself as the most stressful part of business travel.
While employers can help employees get back to travel, they also need to help relieve stress. Here are four ways to preserve employee mental health in business travel programs – which have the added benefit of helping attract and retain talent during a pivotal time for companies.
Prioritize safety and flexibility over sales
Health and safety are key values to Gen Z, which is projected to comprise nearly a quarter of the workforce by 2030. A recent survey found Gen Z business travelers (94%) consider some flexible travel and booking options as essential for their company to allow to protect their health and safety when they travel for business.
With Gen Z representing a growing portion of the workforce, companies must look for opportunities to meet their needs, including traveling more. Thirty-five percent of Gen Z business travelers say they will look for a new position if their travel schedules don’t improve.
Regardless of generation, all travelers want flexibility to feel safe. Ninety-one percent consider some flexible travel and booking options as essential for their company to allow to protect their health and safety when they travel for business.
Companies should consider less rigid travel policies where possible, allowing employees to select their preferred accommodations or mode of transportation, book travel directly on supplier websites and determine the length of their trip.
Extend diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts to travel
Mental health and DE&I go hand in hand, because inclusive workplace cultures make employees of all backgrounds feel welcome and present.
The travel industry has inclusivity issues that are important for employers to address. For example, women and LGBTQ+ travelers have experienced harassment or had to hide their sexual identity during a business trip. Additionally, 73% of business travelers have seen- or known someone who has seen – discriminatory practices while traveling for business, such as travelers avoiding sitting near certain people (35%) or people being ignored by service workers (33%).
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Employers can create change by involving diversity leaders in the corporate travel program and collaborating on travel policies and resources. Travel programs should have tools that educate employees about potential risks at their destination and provide immediate assistance if something happens on the road.
Additionally, employers should prioritize hotels and other travel suppliers that act inclusively toward diverse populations, e.g., hotels that accommodate people with disabilities or have heightened security to protect women and LGBTQ+ travelers.
Establish wellness checks
Companies should establish more routine communications to check in and collect feedback. “In addition to professional mental health services, employers can get involved with simple interventions such as checking in with employees, treating employees with both respect and compassion, encouraging regular daily exercise and meditative practices,” according to Dr. Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.
“Paying attention to the well-being of your workforce goes a long way. Remembering that people are important, sacred, fully human and want to thrive, flourish and contribute to a better world is important, too,” he says.
When companies offer health and wellness services to support business travelers, employees do make use of them. Nearly all (93%) travel managers report that most employees take advantage of these services at least occasionally while traveling.
Build sustainability into your corporate social awareness program
Almost all business travelers (94%) plan to take steps over the next 12 months to reduce the environmental impact of their business travel, especially Gen Z (98%) and millennials (96%). Gen Z (22%) and millennials (28%) would even consider declining a business trip if it required using non-sustainable travel options.
Companies can help employees achieve their sustainability goals by setting company-wide policies. For example, establish eco-friendly travel parameters, e.g., prioritizing nonstop flights to cut back on carbon emissions or hotel suppliers that are committed to reducing waste and emissions. Empower employees to contribute to these initiatives by offering incentives, increasing training and education and electing sustainability ambassadors.
Safety, DE&I, wellness and sustainability should be leading pillars of all business travel programs – and workplaces themselves – to help employees focus on their mental health.
Hear from CWT and others at The Phocuswright Conference 2022 in November