One of the pandemic’s silver linings has been greater awareness of and attention to corporate duty of care. According to Claire Langford, a veteran travel buyer and former TMC program manager now with CoreTrust Purchasing Group, organizations taking a broader view of employee wellbeing can not only mitigate risk, but also improve recruiting and retention.
According to Deloitte, only 17 percent of corporate travel managers expected a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels of business travel volume by the end of 2022, and one in seven reported a significant rethink of their company’s travel plans for this year. The reduction in travel provides an opportunity for employers to re-evaluate their policies and approaches to travel-related duty of care.
Duty of care is an organization’s obligation to take certain steps, such as developing guidelines and instituting emergency procedures, to protect employee safety and wellbeing. This corporate responsibility expands beyond the workplace to include employees traveling for company business.
Prior to 2020, a company’s primary risk concern for business-related travel was an employee’s physical safety, which they would approach, for example, by evaluating whether a hotel was located in a high-crime area. Covid-19, however, led to a rapid expansion of employee risk. Now, business travelers face a new health threat present at every step of a trip that can result in high levels of anxiety and stress, impacting mental health.
Due in large part to these new complexities, a growing awareness of corporate duty of care and related best practices have spread from the traditional domains of travel, human resources and risk professionals to attract executive attention across the enterprise. For some, this broader awareness and a highlighted focus on employee retention are driving positive cultural change. Potential job candidates are also now looking beyond salary to the availability of remote work, flexible travel policies and assurance of safety protocols. Smart employers are keeping pace with these trends to attract and retain top talent.
Where To Start
Travel-related care standards will vary across employers, even for those within the same industry, of similar size or in the same competitor set. Culture and geography play major roles in a company’s approach. That said, we can identify a few principles that help companies set this new standard of best practices.
Many companies started developing stronger travel policies during the past two years to prepare for the safe return of business travel. Effective policies should contain references to duty of care safeguards and expectations, remain up-to-date and be easy to comprehend. Elements to include are who to contact in the event of an emergency or incident, safety standards for lodging and ground transportation, and links to wellbeing resources. Ensure the policy is widely communicated and available through a variety of channels, such as a company intranet or timely pop-up messaging in booking platforms. An effective policy focused on traveler care will lay out the steps an organization takes to promote traveler safety, as well as the responsibilities that lie with employees themselves.
A core feature of best-in-class travel programs is a focus on open lines of communication. It is critical to listen carefully to employees and provide valuable, timely information in a trusted forum that considers both the business benefits of travel as well as employee wellbeing and feedback. This culture of exchange is most effective coming from the top of an organization and involves collaboration across business groups for wide acceptance. Overall, both the employee and employer will benefit from promoting unrestricted lines of communication before, during and after business travel to ensure safety and continuous policy improvement. Employers and employees need to be able to connect during business travel; there are numerous technologies available to facilitate this, allowing a company to choose what works best for their culture.
Plan For A Crisis
Every travel program needs to include a crisis management strategy and related traveler-friendly tools. When designing this plan, it is critical to think through potential complications that could arise in any given travel situation and map out a contingency response in advance. Oftentimes, this is an inter-departmental effort between travel, risk and human resources, and should include perspectives of frequent travelers. One key element relates to the reliable channels that the employer will use to share important safety information with employees affected by a crisis. Employees must also be aware of their responsibilities and trained on how to properly use provided tools, such as mobile apps, to help ensure they can receive accurate and company-vetted information.
As a result of locally set rules and regulations related to the pandemic, employers must now check health, as well as safety considerations in specific areas where employees work and where they travel. This focus, coupled with maintaining a close watch on national and local current events, will enable employers to equip employees with timely, personalized information to mitigate risk and ensure wellbeing.
While this can feel daunting, companies do not need to go it alone. By finding the right partners to implement these comprehensive policies and best practices, companies can remain focused on their core competencies with the peace of mind that their teams’ safety and wellbeing are a top priority.
Through all of this, employers can incorporate a broader definition of wellbeing into their company culture and business planning while facilitating safer business travel overall. Comprehensive travel planning and open lines of communication will boost employee satisfaction and can increase talent recruitment and retention as differentiators when competing within a skilled workforce.
Ultimately, the challenges posed by the pandemic are proving to make business travel more resilient and more intentional, and set a high level of safety and care. The increased level of awareness seen around employee duty of care and safety considerations will also drive improvements across the industry, benefitting both employers and employees alike.