Why Wellbeing Should Be a Key Element of Every Duty of Care Policy

GBTA Risk Committee Blog Post – May 2021

With the entire business travel industry being turn upside down due to the pandemic, this is an opportunity for a fresh restart in every aspect of business travel, including duty of care and risk management.  There are many choices to be made right now and one of them is to either go back to how things were done before or to use this time to reshape duty of care across the entire business travel industry.

Now is the time to redefine traveler risk and where wellbeing fits into duty of care because one positive that the global pandemic did was catapult wellbeing and self-care to the forefront of all industries, especially the corporate world.


Pre-Covid Road Warrior Burnout Epidemic

Every company has a duty of care and risk management policy in place but there was a huge void when it came to wellbeing which is a huge mistake.  I guess the first question for companies to ask themselves is “what does risk mean to us?” If it only refers to missed flights, emergency situations, covid guidelines and restrictions, and the usual risk mitigations that ultimately keep travelers physically safe and help the company’s bottom line then, this article is for you.

Risk management should be anything that involves the traveler’s health, safety, and the betterment of the company as a whole.  Doesn’t that include productivity, company culture, mental and physical health, and work performance?  It should.

Before Covid hit, there was a soaring burnout epidemic among business travelers which ultimately negatively impacted the traveler’s overall wellbeing and work performance.  This directly effects the overall company success, or lack there of.

Harvard Business Review stated that “job burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year” and that “87% of travelers feel that the quality of their business travel impacts their business results” in their 2018 business travel study.

Among the burnout epidemic, road warriors were struggling with a wide range of health problems including obesity, increased alcohol use, poor sleep habits, hypertension, smoking, and of course high anxiety and stress levels.

Over time, these issues can lead to chronic disease risks and can create increased costs for employers including higher medical claims, decreased employee productivity, short-term disability, and absenteeism which all have the potential to strain or sever relationships with suppliers and clients (Harvard Business Review, 2018).

“Almost 75% of the staff reported high or very high stress related to business travel” reported the World Bank Study.   It’s no secret that heightened stress levels can play a negative role on how we conduct business and reach our goals.


The Risk of Being Risky

Because we essentially have a clean slate right now, that doesn’t mean that we can’t look at our past to help reshape our policies moving forward.   Since personal wellbeing was put on the back burner when it came to duty of care and risk management of business travelers, the burnout epidemic was born and lead to poor mental health, high turnover rates, poor company culture, productivity loss, and lost engagement.

Frequent business trips can be a threat to a person’s health and it has shown over the years through research.  The American Institute of Stress reported in a 2018 study that “work-related stress cost businesses $300 billion a year” and the World Health Organization stated that “depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.”.

Burnout costs employers millions of dollars in lost productivity, low engagement, increased errors and more safety incidents which directly corelates with risk management (Harvard Business Review, 2019).  So why isn’t a traveler’s mental and overall personal wellbeing factored into every risk management plan?


What Is Duty of Care?

According to TravelPerk,” duty of care is a corporate policy and legal requirement ensuring companies are dedicated to the physical and emotional safety and wellbeing of their employees” and that “travel risk management is the strategy that fulfills that obligation. It’s the action plan that provides the care that companies have a duty to give”.

So why isn’t more being done when it comes to wellbeing?

Risk management historically involved health and safety, missed or cancelled flights, travel documents and requirements, accidents, illness while traveling, fire safety, natural disaster plans, medical attention, evacuations, discrimination and bullying, violence, stress management, and now covid regulations and safety protocols.

It’s a commitment by a company to care for its employees and everything that it entails and should align with your company’s values and needs which probably includes the wellbeing of its employees and overall company success. No?


The Problem

There has been a huge void in the traveler wellbeing approach, mostly because duty of care and risk management policies remained in constructed boxes and wellbeing wasn’t looked at as a risk.   But, times are changing, as are traveler behaviors and needs.

TripActions wrote in their blog about duty of care that “the importance of this goes much deeper than legal obligations, and in many cases your own standards should exceed baseline requirements”.  They went on to say that “duty of care is also a matter of realizing that employees’ physical and mental well-being is essential to your company’s success”.

Duty of care should be looked at as a long-term investment in human capital that aims to improve company culture while also helping the bottom line (TripActions, 2019)

It’s time to think outside of traditional legacy concepts centered around risk and duty of care and consider traveler’s wellbeing outside of health and safety concerns.  After all, isn’t a person’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing just as important as their physical safety and whereabouts?


It’s Time for a Change

Employees want to know that their company acknowledges them as human beings and their wellbeing.

In American Express Global Business Travel’s Mitigate Travel Burnout Guide, they say to “go beyond the destination-specific health information and alerts and educate employees about how to make healthier choices while on the road. Even simple reminders on what to avoid while dining out and stretches/exercises they can do on the go can spur positive behaviors”.

When it comes to traveler wellbeing, it stems far beyond just healthy meal options, jet leg apps, hotel gyms, and yoga and mindfulness instructors. It’s about tapping into the proven wellness benefits of travel and properly equipping and educating travelers for successful business travel that positively impacts both their personal and professional goals.

“It’s like training a business traveler like an athlete,” says Scott Gillespie, a business travel industry data expert.  It’s about teaching travelers to be responsible for their overall wellbeing while on the road and to get to know the traveler on a deeper and more personal level.  After all, the concept of a “personalized” experience is constantly talked about in the business travel industry but, what does “personalized” really mean?

Travelers seek empathy, compassion, and understanding from their company and those in charge of their business trips.   The role of the travel manager is evolving just like booking agents to a more lifestyle and guidance role.  “The travel agent of the future is an expert, a specialist, a therapist and someone to lean on” says Bonnie Smith, the GM at FCM Travel Solutions South Africa.

According to a 2019 Hilton Hotel survey on business travel, “46% of biz travelers say that their company doesn’t consider their personal lives when asking them to travel, 84% of young business travelers say that they cherish their alone time during business trips, and 73% report that they have a better experience when they spend downtime on their own”.  Companies should optimize on this information and help travelers boost their wellbeing while on a trip rather than deteriorate it.

You have probably heard the term “purposeful travel” being tossed around in the business travel industry. What does purposeful travel mean for your company? What is the intention of the business trip including the personal wellbeing of the traveler? How can a traveler get more out of an experience?

With the potential of fewer business trips in the future, it’s important to make the most out of each one and obtain the most amount of value in them.  Now, let’s dive into why and how travel can be used to help reduce risk while helping companies thrive.



The Power of Travel on Our Wellbeing

Travel has proven to improve our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing which is something that business travelers clearly need.  The healthier that we are both inside and out, the better we can perform in our jobs.

Studies show that travel has the ability to decrease stress and anxiety.  Resilience, cultivating gratitude, generosity, breathing techniques like meditation, slow-paced activities like hikes in nature are all things that are believed to lower stress, which are all things that travel brings.  Visiting blue spaces, meaning bodies of water, is important to people who are seeking to unwind. “We know this simply from analyzing people’s habits, in terms of where they tend to visit and what they tend to value. For example, we know that people spend more money on hotel rooms with sea views,” said BlueHeath in the Washington Post.  The BlueHealth project found that short but regular time spent in blue spaces, such as a daily 20-minute walk along a seafront, cumulatively boosts long-term well-being. Therapeutic landscapes like forests, mountains, and calming sea sides may help to decrease the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases (U.S National Library of Medicine).

Traveling can inspire people to be more active by partaking in activities such as hiking, going for a walk in nature, exploring a new city, or swimming.  It can also improve your physical wellbeing by boosting your immunity, contrary to popular belief right now. “Travel exposes you to different environments which creates strong antibodies and boost your immune system significantly” said Matador Network.  The salty sea water is known to help reduce inflammation while the salty sea air can help improve respiration.  Also, fetting a daily dose of sunshine can aid in bone health through Vitamin D.

Traveling can help give your emotional and spiritual wellbeing a boost as well by building an emotional preparedness to be receptive of others while deepening compassion and empathy.  We all currently crave human and social interaction, both which are essential to effective business travel and our mental wellbeing.


Using Travel as a Tool to Excel in our Work Performance

Research shows that intentional travel can increase work performance, spark creativity and innovation, and increase the quality of our work. The changing of environments and engaging with new people with different perspectives and backgrounds can spark new ideas and build relationships.   Scientists say that travel makes you more creative by breaking creative stagnation and getting your creative juices flowing.  International experiences and fresh cultural scenes can also open the mind to creative thinking.

Travel introduces discovery, shared group experiences, a sense of deep learning, and the ability to unplug.   “You’ll be amazed at what you can do when you’re unplugged—and what your people have accomplished when you plug back in. I can personally attest, you’ll be a more confident and better leader because of it” said Jim Moffatt, the CEO of Deloitte Consulting.


Steps to Take Next

What do you do with this information and change in mindset around risk management and duty of care?  Here are some ideas to consider for your company.

American Express Global Business Travel recommends adopting a ‘bleisure’ policy and pre-trip health screening to better understand the traveler’s psychological wellbeing.  TravelPerk suggests that “a duty of care policy should research, document, warn, and train for any possible risks”.

Since travel risk assessments are already in place, think about integrating a more personal assessment to get to know the traveler on a more personal level.  Then, provide adequate and proper resources, education, and trainings to cover all bases including empowerment, wellbeing, rules, expectations, prevention, preparation, company culture, and more.  Remember, every traveler is unique and needs something different to thrive in their wellbeing and work-life.

Next, collect feedback and have effective communication with your travelers.  What is it that they truly need during their experience in order to reach their goals, and stay healthy and safe?  It’s also important to establish within your company whose role and responsibly it is when it comes to traveler wellbeing.  Is it the travel manager? Human resources? A wellbeing leader? A travel coach? Or a combination of people? Remember, collaboration is key.

This is an opportunity for a fresh restart on all risk management and duty of care policies so your company can come out as a leader and your travelers are happy, successful, and well.