The Physical Toll of Business Travel According to New Research

Ever hear “You’re so lucky to be able to travel internationally for work?” I have heard this countless times over my 25+ years of business travel.

And I admit it – I am very lucky because I do love the travel and the work that I do, though business travel can take a toll. New research shows the personal toll of what international business travel can really have.

The research was produced by AirPlus International (global corporate card provider) in partnership with Business Travel Market (13-14 June in London).

Two groups of employees, a travel group and a non-travel group, wore sophisticated heart rate monitors called Bodyguard™, a device which measures both heart rate and heart rate variability – two key variables used to understand the stress the body is under at any given time. No surprise that the two groups showed significantly different results. Noticeably different were the hours and quality of sleep with the traveling group far worse off than the non-traveling group.

Their researched showed that business performance was affected through:

  • A reduction of mental capacity
  • Diminished communication skills
  • Lower levels of concentration
  • Decreased engagement
  • Reduced levels of tolerance
  • Increased risk of ill health

Some businesses are not aware of the impact that different methods of travelling can make to an employee’s productivity. For example, according to AirPlus Managing Director, Yael Klein, “…although it may be more cost effective for a staff member to travel very early in the morning to make a 9am meeting, it might be more conducive for them to travel the evening before and stay the night in a hotel, as it may enable them to perform better on the day of their meeting.” How well I understand this. As a project manager, I have divided camps of travelers. Some prefer to give up part or all of their Sundays in order to travel and be rested and ready for Monday mornings. Others, like me, prefer to get up early on Monday morning and have more hours at home on Sunday. Either way can be stressful on the body, even though a frequent traveler may really not feel the stress.

Asked if employees’ well-being when they travel on business should be a higher priority, Yael Klein responded with: “Only a healthy employee will be able to contribute to the business’ success. Although economies will drive organisations to make decisions based on cost, we suggest that businesses look at the well-being of their employees too.”

Paul Robin, Event Director, Business Travel Market says: “Business travel is often represented as a luxury and the personal toll on executives is often looked over. Often business people travel alone, away from their families; they go from hotel room to airport without enjoying the destinations they are in. Their itineraries are usually very congested, leaving little time for recovery. Organisations need to manage their travel spend to better look after their staff and increase their productivity.”

While I concur with the research, I also know that there are things that I can do as a traveler to help keep the physical toll lower and productivity higher. I’ll start tonight by invoking my own advice and ask my hotel for a shut-down call and aim for more hours of sleep.

Share your thoughts on what you feel your company can do, or you can do, to improve your traveling performance.

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  1. We’d be rich, wouldn’t we? Sometimes I want to reply “You’re so lucky to be able to in your own home and in your own bed every night.” But I stop myself because I could never give up the travel.

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