There is an urgent need for closer collaboration within an organization between its human resource and travel management functions to develop employee-friendly travel policies and enhance the well-being of their business travelers. Stress is part of everyday work-life. But how do organizations manage the employees’ stress management when they regularly travel for work?
People Matters spoke to Sunita Menon, Head-HR, CWT India, a corporate travel management organization regarding managing the employee stress due to hectic travelling.
What impact does travel-induced stress have on the efficiency of employees? Can you indicate the factors causing highest stress? And what is the company perspective when they are setting this up?
In 2012-2013, the CWT Solutions Group published a study called the “Travel Stress Index: The Hidden Costs of Business Travel”, for which they surveyed 6,000 business travelers to understand what triggers stress during a typical business trip. What emerged from this survey was a list of 33 stress triggers, such as having poor or no internet connection on the road, flying economy on medium or long-haul flights, and traveling during weekends.
The study also looked at the impact of travel stress on employee productivity, and found that traveler-focused policies which take into account the impact of trip-related stress, could help companies improve traveler wellbeing while also improving corporate productivity by up to 32%.
HR can boost productivity by being involved in the process of developing a company’s travel program, and by influencing the organization to create policies that enhance the traveler experience and reduce stress. For example, if employees are often required to travel on weekends, HR may work to create a policy that allows travelers to extend their stay for a few days after completing their work and enjoy a bit of leisure time at their destination.
How can the HR department bridge this gap between companies and employees? What according to you should be the key considerations while framing travel policies within an organisation?
Human Resources plays a pivotal role between employer and employee in any organization – it is the fundamental link between the two to ensure strong relationships and communication between all levels of the organization.
When it comes to creating a framework for a company’s travel program and policies, HR deliberates and attempts to answer a number of questions during this process. For example, these would include:-
- Why & where is the employee traveling?
- What will it cost? Who is funding the travel?
- Does a substitute option exist, that is economically and logistically optimal, yet meets the objective?
- Impact of this travel. i.e. who is the backup for the person not in station?
- Any risks involved, business or otherwise, due to this travel?
- What will the employee need for this travel in terms of logistics? (For example: visas, hotel bookings)
- What impact will this travel have on the individual?
- Does the employee gain from this travel?
- Have all controls with regards the workflow for travel been adhered to? (For example: hierarchy of approvals, time-lines)
- What comforts and safety procedures can be provided on business travel?
Do you think a closer collaborative effort of human resource and travel management functions is needed within organizations to enhance the well-being of frequent business travelers? If so, why?
Yes, indeed. With corporate travel having a significant impact on employees’ well-being, morale and productivity, it is critical for the HR department to be involved in the process of developing a company’s travel program. It’s essential that the creators of travel policy, including the HR department, work very closely with the travel manager (whose role is to execute the travel program) in order to deliver a program that impacts the end user experience positively.
Frequent business travelers are not only knowledgeable, but also well versed on the routes, places, and the end-to-end process of travel. These travelers often require last minute changes, prompt support and special care as they make most of their travel time. Strong and well thought out travel policies that keep the needs and well-being of employees at their core, when executed effectively can augment travel efficiency and productivity.
How can organisations strike a balance between the costs and the comfort of their employees?
Putting employees first always helps build the equations of cost and return on investment. An engaged employee will increase productivity, lead innovation and steer an organization towards growth. IT & ITES organizations with opportunities of onsite training programs that require employees to travel and interact with diverse talent have not only seen less attrition but also upward sustainable growth.
Infrastructure facilities, ambience, services provided to employees, trainings and cost to hire all contribute to cost incurred by an organization. However, this needs to be seen as an investment. The tangible and intangible effects of these costs on the health of an organization is the increase in productivity, retention and building a brand through employee engagement. Having said that, there is a need to be agile and adapt to the use of cost effective methods that on one hand are able to provide the same if not more comfort to the employee, but at the same time ensure that business is not impacted.
When it comes to travel, there are a number of instances in which a company might need to strike a balance between cost and employee comfort. For example, there are times when employees need to make fly-in fly-out trips, where they fly to another city for work in the morning and then catch a night flight back home. From an employee comfort perspective, it would make sense to have the employee spend the night at a hotel and fly back the next morning; however, this might not make sense from a cost perspective. In a situation like this, HR could help strike a balance by instituting a policy that let’s employees work flexible hours the day after taking a night flight.
With considering economy vs business class, many companies have a policy where travelers can only fly business class on flights longer than six hours. From an employee comfort point of view, travelers would prefer to fly business class even on shorter flights, but in terms of cost this wouldn’t be feasible for most companies. Here, too, HR can help strike a balance by influencing travel policy and providing travelers flying economy with perks such as extra-legroom seats, which cost much less than a business class seat but still go some way in making the employee’s trip more comfortable.
Has the acceptance grown towards managed travel in Indian companies vis-à-vis multinational organisations?
Yes, it has. It’s an interconnected world! The SME segment has great potential for managed travel and adoption of managed travel programs by these companies continues to grow. More and more business heads, CFO’s and Travel/Administrative Managers are now looking to enhance value for their internal clients (i.e. employees who travel) and decrease manual errors and costs. The managed travel program gives them an opportunity to save extra costs resulting from manual errors and also from the deployment of extra headcount for different expertise for visas, bookings, expense claims etc.
How can technology be leveraged by organisations to enhance the engagement level with employees?
Today’s employees are tech savvy and tied to their mobile devices! To enhance engagement with them, we need to make use of technology and social media. The content too has to be short and snappy, have a brand recall factor, as well as have social, ethical and economic value attached.
India has one of the world’s largest millennial populations, and millennials already represent the largest segment of India’s workforce. Millennials are also the largest demographic amongst business travelers from CWT’s clients in India. With this in mind, we have developed tools like our CWT To Go mobile app, which allows you to check your travel itinerary, update key travel profile information, check-in for flights and receive real-time flight alerts on your mobile device, providing a travel experience more in line with the expectations of millennials.
In today’s volatile business environment, what kind of innovative initiatives should HRs take to retain employees?
A volatile business environment requires HR to respond to change with high speed and meticulous planning. This is an era of millennials and technology, and the concept of retention itself has to change from long-term service awards of 20+ years to 5 years. This is an evolving phase and HR teams world over need to be nimble footed on this.
Retention of talent is matter of changing the context of your people strategies. It begins when you move away from “offering a job” to “offering a career”. Organizations need to recognize that while every candidate may not be the perfect hire, there may be many with the passion and hunger to be successful. There is a need to commit to training and developing focused skill-sets by introducing structured internship programs not just in Tier A cities, but in Tier B and Tier C cities as well, and building careers for young candidates from campus to corporate. We need to make millennials aware of how employable we are making them for the future.
At the same time, we need to recognize that there are different strokes for different folks. Understanding the demographic and offering benefits beyond standard insurance to high performing employees will create a culture of performance and retention. The reward strategies should have flavors beyond extra merit pay-out: these could include flexible work hours, autonomy to handle a prestigious global business project, delegation, flexible contracts, homecoming programs for women employees post maternity, sponsoring them for a hobby/ training program, extra time off on extra miles covered, or fast-tracking leaders to more senior roles.
For an organization to have a retention factor of 90%, it needs to build a culture of trust, transparency and a temperament of learning.