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Business Travel Market: Revisit travel policies to heighten productivity

Business Travel Market: Revisit travel policies to heighten productivity

A study commissioned by Business Travel Market’s research sponsor, AirPlus International advises of how to avoid business travel fatigue. 

It also suggests that it may be time to revisit travel policies, tightened up during the recession, to help heighten employee performance levels. 

The study focussed on the measurement of the mental and physical health of a group of frequent travellers and indications are that the tough travel policies currently in place in many companies, may be a false economy when it comes to protecting the health and maximising productivity of employees.

To better understand the demands placed upon business travellers AirPlus International commissioned a study by Optima-Life, a research-based company that offers a personalised approach to health and performance in business, sport and every-day life.  With travel for business both essential and necessary, the aim was to gauge the effects of travel and see whether health and performance levels differed between those that travelled on business and those that didn’t. 

Over a 72- hour period, the mental and physical health of two groups of employees was monitored. Group one included a business trip by air and group two did not. The study compared changes in heart rate variability responses as participants went about their busy working lives and evaluated everyday activity in the work place, at leisure and sleep patterns.  Data was collected through sophisticated monitors attached to the volunteers to create a digital model that measured human physiological functions, such as when the body is stressed, as well as any differences there may be in rest and recovery patterns. 

The results showed a significant reduction in recovery time in the travelling group compared to the non-travelling group.  The average recovery time was 26% in the non-travelling group compared to 14% in the travelling group.  In addition, sleep time for the travelling group was reduced for travellers, who slept for an average of 6 hours 41 minutes compared to 7 hours 2 minutes in the non-travelling group.  Although sleep duration was not dissimilar, the research did show that the quality of sleep as determined from a heart rate variability based index, was much poorer in the travelling group.

The study illustrates how travel managers need to be aware of the effects and stresses of travel on employees’ performance and perhaps revise their policies – which may have been downgraded at the height of the recession – to better suit a business world where saving money should not be the main consideration.  The pure cost of a flight ticket is of course important but if the price to pay for travelling economy rather than business class results in diminished communication skills and engagement, then the need to review policies to ensure that travellers are comfortable and healthy and able to perform at their best when abroad, should be top of the agenda.

BTM founder and event director Paul Robin said: “Taking appropriate steps to optimise physiological status will benefit the health of travellers, increasing their chances of achieving performance and corporate goals.  It is proven that excessive fatigue can negatively impact business performance through a reduction of mental capacity, diminished communication skills and decreased engagement. ”

“All companies setting travel policy need to be aware of the demands of travel and how, through taking on board positive health and performance behaviours, they can play a proactive role in giving their employees the best possible chance to be resilient and perform at the top of their game.  Travelling economy versus business, for example, needs to be evaluated and taxi transfers are certainly less stressful than battling public transport. Booking an extra night in an hotel is a consideration, in order to arrive the day before an important meeting to ensure adequate recovery time and paying the extra for early or late check-in can pay dividends.”

Yael Klein, managing director of AirPlus International in the UK says: “While travel policies were tightened during the recession, the market is in a position now where policies could be revisited.  While an airfare or hotel may appear to be the cheapest option, if the traveller has an exhausting journey and is unproductive upon arrival, this might cost the organisation more in the long run.”

As a result of the study, AirPlus International will produce a White Paper in conjunction with Optima-life CEO Simon Shepard, to be published later this year. Optima-Life has data available to illustrate the effects of stress on the body, this is available on request.

Shepard will be presenting the findings to the BTM audience on 23 June at 12h30 in a business session entitled ‘Understanding the Demands of Travel on the Body and What Can you Do to Keep Body and Mind in the Zone’ which will also be introduced by Roger Eccleston, head of sales at AirPlus International.