Corporate policies and training programs should facilitate and encourage post-trip recovery to mitigate the ill effects of international business travel, according to new research. That could mean allowing extra time to deal with jet lag or personal tasks, encouraging relaxation during trips, establishing minimum rest periods between long-haul excursions or suggesting moratoria on work communications.

Applying what’s known as job-demands resources theory in a survey of 134 international business travelers from 20 countries, researchers found that “recovery relaxation … significantly weakened the impact of job demands on exhaustion.”

Job-demands resources theory posits that job stress comes from insufficient support (such as job security or autonomy) relative to demands on the individual, like workload. The model “currently underpins many human resource strategies (e.g., wellness audits, workshops, job design, work changes, leadership practices, career planning and development) and the theory is considered a prominent foundation on which to base interventions for improving well-being and performance outcomes,” according to earlier research cited in the new study. 

“Being considerate of recovery for those involved in international business travel could make the difference between an employee’s perception of the trip as negative or positive (i.e., employee and traveler experience) which will filter down into their approach to daily work with everything from attitudes to interactions and behaviors,” according to the paper, now available for a limited time and set to be published in September by the Journal of Transport & Health. “It may be that for jobs with high levels of demands or where avoiding health impairment is a concern, providing employees with opportunities to relax both physically and mentally may be most beneficial. 

“Encouraging employees to decide what activities to pursue in their leisure time, when or how, along with encouraging pursuit of activities that are challenging yet provide learning opportunities is advisable,” the authors wrote. “Until more research unravelling the role of various recovery experiences for international business travelers is available, a viable approach may be to remain flexible, discussing options for recovery with employees on an informal basis (i.e., this may be as simple as flexibility with the direct line manager, without the need to involve formal policy or human resources). Training could highlight the relevance of relaxation so [they] can make better-informed behavioral decisions.”

Authors of the study were Lucy Rattrie, a psychologist and co-founder of the Business Travel Wellbeing Community, Markus Kittler, professor and academic director of the MCI Management Center in Innsbruck, and University of Surrey professors Scott Cohen and Jason Li Chen.

The research builds on a growing body of academic study of the health impacts of business travel, especially the frequent and international kinds. Academics have researched how being a road warrior contributes to engagement or success as well as burnout or anxiety. With both positive and negative effects of business trips, the issue is anything but black and white.

The November 2020 edition of the Annals of Tourism Research included a piece called, “The Impact Of Business Travel On Travelers’ Well-Being,” which also examined the “job demand-resource model” and found, through 34 interviews with travelers, that business travel could “function as demand and resource, affecting well-being in negative and positive ways.”

The Journal of Air Transport Management in August published, “The Negative Effects Of Travel Friction Among Road Warrior Salespeople,” which suggested “cost-focused travel policies” were detrimental to well-being.

Corporate travel professionals have been discussing well-being for several years. According to results of a February-March 2022 BCD Travel survey, released this month, 51 percent of 875 business travelers from around the globe said they were aware of well-being support provided by their companies. Significant causes of post-trip stress, the survey found, included catching up on work or household duties, fatigue and preparing expense reports.

“Companies can support traveler well-being via their travel policy and other measures,” according to BCD Travel. Top policy options which would contribute to traveler well-being according to respondents included offering direct flights, fast-track security programs such as TSA PreCheck and convenient hotel locations, and allowing airplane seat selection and, for long-haul flights, business class. According to BCD, travelers also can benefit from recommendations for restaurants with healthy food, gym memberships when traveling, combined business/leisure trips and “extra time off to compensate for business travel outside working hours.”

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