The biggest problem with wellbeing in the business travel market isn’t the idea of it, but finding ways of introducing good practices off the back of it.
Certainly the wellbeing concept, which focuses on both a traveller’s physical and mental health, is now well represented in the sector. Indeed, it will take on even greater significance as workers get back on the road for business as the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
But with people having very different definitions of wellbeing in their minds, which then translates as different needs, trying to introduce positive policies into the market has become increasingly difficult.
Joshua Gunn, the head of global product and digital marketing at Travel and Transport, says that until you understand the traveller, you won’t understand their needs or be able to create an effective wellbeing programme for them.
“Everyone has a different opinion on wellness,” says Gunn. He does suggest, however, that there are problems common to all business travellers, including jetlag and poor sleep, a lack of healthy food choices and minimal exercise opportunities whilst away.
Gunn says TMCs should be able to help tackle these and, for the last 18 months, he has been part of a three-strong steering committee in the firm focusing on traveller wellbeing. This ultimately led to the launch of a new wellbeing service in February this year.
Everyone has a different opinion on wellbeing's place in business travel
Travellers whose companies have signed up to the programme are contacted 24 hours before departure via email or the TMC’s Dash Mobile app, focusing on the healthy choices available to them once on their trip.
Gunn says this can include reminding people their hotel has a pool or a gym, so they remember to pack the correct clothing, to finding local restaurants with healthy options and highlighting other fitness facilities, like yoga studios, that are nearby and easily accessible.
He adds: “Some things are not controllable, for instance the length, intensity and frequency that someone travels. That is usually set by the line manager – it is a culture and you have to get on board with that.
“Diet, exercise and sleep are more controllable and this is just a very simple reminder that has proved to be very positive.”
Gunn says the new service is popular with clients who are increasingly waking up to the fact that their duty of care to travelling employees now extends to considering their physical and mental wellbeing too.
“We see it as an opportunity for travel managers to drive higher engagement within their programmes,” Gunn says. “If you provide these additional benefits to travellers then we have seen adoption rates go up which means it’s easier to catch that spend and know where that traveller is from the duty of care point of view.”
Chris Ulph, head of global marketing at FairFly, agrees that although wellbeing means different thing to different people, the data is now there allowing companies to identify who might be most at risk of burn out.
The company has traditionally tracked fares but has now launched a wellness service which is becoming increasingly popular with clients.
Ulph says the new service has created independent traveller wellness scores where known components about the traveller – for instance the frequency of overseas trips – are weighted against known variables and research the company has.
“This includes last-minute flight cancellations, delays, seat changes or even gate changes,” Ulph adds. “Anything that’s disruptive to the traveller you can start building into a benchmarking tool.”
This data then allows travel managers to work proactively, from steering travellers away from flights that are regularly disrupted to choosing an airline operating a Dreamliner on a route as opposed to an older aircraft in order to give the traveller a better onboard experience.
You can benchmark anything that’s disruptive to a business traveller
The tool also allows its users to find and flag employees whose gruelling travel schedules leave them particularly vulnerable to poor mental wellbeing and do something to improve their situation before it’s too late.
Ulph says: “If things continue in a certain way over a long-term period, people won’t just come to accept it, they will want to make a change in their lives as they will be exhausted.”
Jonti Dalal-Small, head of behavioural science at Capita Travel and Events, argues that the focus on wellbeing in the modern world means that it is no longer an option for TMCs to involve themselves in it, but a moral imperative.
He says: “I don’t think we should talk about it as an opportunity; it’s the right thing to do. Traditionally the duty of care has been quite narrowly defined in terms of security. Beyond that, people have other needs. They need to get there and back safely and securely but they need to get there as anxiety-free as possible.”
IDENTIFYING THE RISK
To this end, Capita launched a wellbeing dashboard earlier this year. Built by its data science team, it enables companies to identify which of their employees are most at risk from their travel schedules.
Risk factors include the frequency and duration of travel, both for an organisation and at team and individual levels, and by manipulating the data, stakeholders can see associations between the amount of travel and who is more likely to be off sick as a result of intensive or particularly stressful travel habits.
Dalal-Small argues this data is already available and helps TMCs identify who is most at risk as well as giving them easy ways of adapting travel schedules to help improve mental wellness. “Wellbeing doesn’t have to be this big overwhelming abstract thing,” he adds.
He is equally insistent that introducing such basic measures, like notifications that a flight is late or flagging the amount of time someone has spent on the road, also helps travellers who can often feel uncertain about how to improve their wellbeing.
“For us the biggest challenge we find is closing what we refer to as the knowing-doing gap. We know most people think wellbeing is important and want to do something about it, but it’s how to take those first steps,” says Dalal-Small.
Nor is this the only challenge faced by those trying to include more wellbeing measures in their travel schedules, Gunn says, adding that regular business travellers, with their apparent jet-set lifestyles, often garner little sympathy in the office over their schedules.
He says: “There are always going to be individuals and companies who will think business travellers are fortunate, they get to travel as part of their job and that’s a benefit to them. Why should we give them more benefits? They’re adults and they can take care of themselves.”
However, he believes this attitude is softening and will continue to do so among businesses, especially as Travel and Transport unveils new wellbeing products that target entire companies, not just their business travellers.
He says: “There is still that recognition that travellers can get burnt out and leave. Companies do recognise that and it’s a cost.”
THE COST CONUNDRUM
One objection that companies are still clinging onto when it comes to introducing more wellbeing measures to staff, is the assumption that they will come with a price tag attached.
Matthew Holman, a mental health and traveller wellbeing consultant and a founding member of the Business Travel Wellbeing Community, says this thinking can be a problem, albeit one that can be quickly overcome.
He says: “When you say the word wellbeing in travel, people think it’s going to cost a lot of money. The reality is it doesn’t have to at all, it’s just a change of mindset and reframing the way we talk to each other.”
Holman adds many business travellers may prefer a cheaper hotel than is assumed for any number of reasons but they are never consulted on this so they are booked into a more costly five-star property.
When you say the word wellbeing, people think it’s going to cost a lot of money
Even where improving someone’s wellbeing on the road might cost more cash, he argues the expense should be considered as part of wider company costs, including staff retention and recruitment should a burnt out employee hand in their notice.
He argues this can be achieved by getting travel managers to work more closely with a company’s HR team which often has a better picture of the cost of travellers pushed to the edge.
Gunn agrees that stressed-out workers can end up taking more sick days and in certain countries, like the US, where companies pay for health insurance, this can end up being a direct cost on the bottom line.
He says: “If you are lowering the claims for that (a company’s health insurance programme) because you have healthier, happier travellers, then you almost have an indirect saving and that is something that has been very positively received by our clients.
“As much as we would like to say we just want to take care of people and for them all to be healthy and that’s a lovely thing to do, there are business reasons for it too so it’s a win-win for everybody,” says Gunn.
RETENTION V RECRUITMENT
FairFly’s Ulph adds that in the worst-case scenario where an employee quits their job because of burn out, the company will face far bigger costs as they recruit and train the employee’s replacement.
“If you can demonstrate there is ROI attached to investing in traveller wellbeing, you can use that as a tool to do the right thing
He adds: “If you can demonstrate there is a return on investment attached to improving and investing in traveller wellbeing, then you can use that as a tool to do the right thing.
“You can use that in an organisation as a bit of leverage and say by investing £80,000 to upgrade these routes to business class, we can save the company about £4million in lost productivity.”
Katie Virtue, a Festive Road consultant and another founder of the Business Travel Wellbeing Community, agrees that by involving HR departments in the conversation, the wider costs of effective wellbeing management can be better understood.
“There’s ways for them to start to figure out some of the value of these components, to bridge the relationship with HR and start bringing in that data,” she explains.
Virtue also believes that the dam has been breached and will continue to be so as the millennial generation, who are more aware of their wellbeing and the need to care for it, work their way up the corporate ladder.
She says: “Clearly wellbeing is one of those components now. We didn’t have it a year ago but coming into this year we did.
“Some of the younger employees are already saying they want a different type of work environment and the more that is an issue, the more it’s going to trickle down to travel. They will say ‘if travel is 50% or more of my job then I need to be able to deal with it according to what my view of wellbeing is’.”
Holman agrees the idea has become far more prevalent in business travel, especially as people across all age ranges become more comfortable about speaking about their mental health and seeking ways of improving it.
Gunn also argues that the coronavirus pandemic is forcing a global rethink of the threats that business travellers face and will invariably lead to an increasing focus on wellbeing.
He adds: “Travel is now potentially more risky but it is less acute, the risk might not be as isolated and there might be greater underlying risks.
“That will shift people’s mindsets and shift what travel management companies have to do to support people. It’s already starting to happen and this is a shift that will accelerate. It is something we have not seen before.”
And perhaps this is the key for TMCs to build effective wellness practices into their travel programmes. The momentum is now there and while no one solution will help everyone, any solution will help someone. The key is to be engaged and to be searching for new ways to improve the business travel experience.
Ulph from FairFly believes rather than being overawed by the apparent intangibility of wellbeing, TMCs should instead view it as an open opportunity to think of new and creative ways to help their clients’ wellness.
He adds: “This is a completely new data set and it will change the way travel managers look at their programmes. The difficulty is ingesting new data as adding a new data source requires more development.
“There is so much we can do. Our limitation is the sheer speed at which we can react to the demand, which is a good problem to have.”