By Brad Foster

Forget the stress of organising events, it’s your attendees that will give you nightmares according to a new study into the behaviour of business travellers.

A joint study by the International SOS Foundation, Kingston Business School and Affinity Health at Work, recently released a new study – `Keeping International Business Travellers Happy, Healthy & Engaged at Home and Away’.

The first-of-its-kind study found, among other things, that:

  • 67 per cent of respondents reported being more engaged with their jobs due to business travel, but…
  • 34 per cent are more likely to engage in a number of risky behaviours while away; and
  • 31 per cent experience emotional exhaustion on a weekly basis

According to the researchers, as employee mental health and its impact on business outcomes is increasingly scrutinised, this research uncovers the rise in risky behaviours, burn out, and exhaustion. However, a sense of adventure, freedom and heightened engagement also comes with business travel.

International SOS Foundation director, Kai Boschmann, who commissioned the study, says: “The business opportunities associated with international travel are undisputed, but research suggests that frequent travellers make three times as many claims for psychological treatment compared to those who don’t travel on business regularly.  To foster business productivity and fulfil `duty of care’ in a sustained way, organisations need to also understand how they can protect the mental health and physical wellbeing of their employees while travelling.”

Associate Professor in Occupational Psychology and program director for the MSc and Professional Doctorate Program in Occupational and Business Psychology at Kingston Business School, Dr Rachel Lewis, adds: “By starting to look into the causes as well as the impacts on business travellers, the paper provides practical support for employers and employees as well as valuable insights.   Awareness is the first step in tackling these issues that are, inevitably, going to become more prevalent as the global workforce increasingly travels internationally in search of business opportunity and success.”

Risky behaviours uncovered

While 67 per cent of respondents to the study reported increased engagement in their jobs due to business travel, over one third (34 per cent) of international business travellers (IBTs) are more likely to engage in a number of risky behaviours when travelling, compared to their behaviour at home, and only 15 per cent are more concerned about their safety while they’re away.

This trend is particularly evident among the younger, less experienced employees.  The study shows that this may be the result of lowered inhibitions. The majority (75 per cent) agree that they see business travel as an opportunity for adventure and exploration, and, for 59 per cent, it’s an opportunity to enjoy freedom from home life.

Other findings were:

  • 46 per cent admit to consuming more alcohol when away on business
  • 35 per cent are more likely to visit bars and nightclubs
  • 35 per cent are more likely to eat in unhygienic places
  • 33 per cent will travel to areas they don’t know are safe
  • 32 per cent are more likely to travel in vehicles without adequate protection
  • Nearly one in ten travellers (nine per cent) also reported that they would be more likely to start a sexual relationship with a new sexual partner(s)
  • Two per cent are more likely to have unprotected sex and two per cent are more likely to use drugs than they are at home

Mental & physical health

The report also uncovers the impact on mental health and physical wellbeing, including an increase in stress levels and emotional exhaustion.

1% their mood suffers when on business

  • 45 per cent experience an increase in stress levels while on a business trip
  • 41 per cent of respondents report that their mood suffers when on business trips
  • Nearly one third (31 per cent) experience emotional exhaustion, a core feature of burnout, on a weekly basis (particularly prevalent in IBTs with children voiced higher levels of emotional exhaustion)
  • One quarter of respondents report their mental health issues are more prevalent (including heightened depression, 27 per cent, stress, 24 per cent and anxiety, 23 per cent)

Mental health issues are consolidated with physical health demands and issues, including working more hours (78 per cent), are less likely to have a balanced diet (76 per cent), less likely to exercise (76 per cent), and suffer from reduced quality sleep (73 per cent).

“The combination of the physical demands and restrictions of international business travel, including the ability to eat moderately as well as keep a regular exercise routine, can have a major impact,” Dr Lewis says.

“Many people rely on this kind of activity to keep a balance both physically and psychologically, whether they are at home or away.  This may be why only 40 per cent of international business travellers reported a sufficient work/life balance.”

Organisational support

While many organisations are providing for the logistics of business travel adequately, when it comes to health and wellbeing, it’s a different matter:

  • 77 per cent provide or enable booking /arrangement of travel logistics
  • 72 per cent choose quality hotel accommodation
  • 65 per cent allow “bleisure” time
  • 59 per cent provide business class flights on long haul
  • 34 per cent have an Employee Assistance Plan
  • 25 per cent have a wellness program
  • 21 per cent offer mental health support

“Organisations can be doing a lot more to support and protect their business travellers,” Professor Quigley says.

“The logistics of business travel are a well-trodden path, but the mental wellbeing of employees who travel regularly is being overlooked, and could be having a major impact on both personnel and the health of a business.  Appropriate support and advice, encompassing behavioural, physical and psychological health, can be the difference between a successful business trip and a costly failed one.”

Accompanying the white paper are materials to support organisations, managers and international business travellers including:

  • Planning and Coping Tool
  • Action Planning Tool
  • Guidance for Organisations
  • Guidance for Managers
  • Guidance for IBTs
  • Checklist for Organisations
  • Checklist for Managers
  • Checklist for IBTs

 The new study ‘Keeping International Business Travellers Happy, Healthy & Engaged at Home and Away’ and supporting materials can be found here: http://learn.internationalsosfoundation.org/Psychology_Study.

 About the research

The research for the ‘Keeping International Business Travellers Happy & Healthy at Home and Away’ white paper combines a survey of 200 international business travellers with in depth interviews of industry experts and extensive desk research.  The resultant report utilised all the findings to draw conclusions and provide recommendations and supporting documentation for organisations and international business travellers.

About International SOS Foundation

Established in 2011, the International SOS Foundation has the goal of improving the safety, security, health and welfare of people working abroad or on remote assignments through the study, understanding and mitigation of potential risks. The escalation of globalisation has enabled more individuals to work across borders and in unfamiliar environments; exposure to risks which can impact personal health, security and safety increases along with travel. The Foundation is a registered charity and was started with a grant from International SOS. It is a fully independent, non-profit organisation. For more information on Duty of Care and the International SOS Foundation, visit http://www.internationalsosfoundation.org/

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