Not just topics for industry conferences, business traveler well-being and productivity also are among the issues examined last year by academic researchers. One study produced more evidence that frequent business travel was detrimental. Two others sought to help companies optimize ways to smooth it over: flying private and getting upgrades.

Let’s start with the bad news — another study showing frequent business travel’s negative effects on behavioral and mental health (1). Dr. Andrew Rundle, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and associates reviewed 2015 health assessments of more than 18,000 workers conducted by corporate wellness program provider EHE International.

Rundle’s team found that those who were away from home at least 21 days a year were 270 percent more likely to smoke than those away between one and six nights per year. They were more than 120 percent more likely to suffer depression and more than 90 percent more likely to develop alcohol dependence.

These impacts joined other long-term effects like anxiety, reduced exercise and sleeping problems.

The paper was published online last month by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Rundle also co-wrote a 2011 paper describing an association between extensive business travel and higher body mass index and obesity. Researchers attributed the correlation partially to greater exposure to fast food.

“The clustering of health conditions among extensive business travelers is particularly worrying,” according to the new research. Such clustering “likely reflects the stresses of business travel, including separation from family and social connections, jet lag, reduced control over one’s own schedule, reduced job decision latitude and higher job strain.”


The authors concluded that occupational travel medicine should expand beyond infectious diseases, deep vein thrombosis, violence and injuries. They suggested a few prevention and mitigation steps for organizations to consider:

• Encourage regular physical activity by picking lodging options with gyms and in-room exercise gear like mats and weights.

• Provide employees with memberships to health club chains and access to health apps that help set exercise goals.

• Offer training and education in stress management, healthy sleeping, eating and “mindful meditation.”

The researchers noted that employees who did not travel at all were more likely to suffer behavioral and mental health issues than those who did. That’s because the health of some workers might have made traveling more difficult and/or caused managers to be less likely to pick them as company representatives at meetings or conferences.

The study didn’t get into how travel luxuries may help workers stay healthy in mind and body. They certainly couldn’t hurt. One perk is flying in a premium class of airline service. But when should employees be allowed to upgrade? Some travel managers may wish they had a formula using their companies’ travel data to answer that question. A group of researchers came up with just that (2).

They asserted that policies stipulating a certain flight duration threshold for premium travel aren’t optimal for striking the balance between cost and employee benefit.

Instead, using an undisclosed multinational company’s 2015 booking records, researchers conducted a cost-benefit analysis of upgrading that considered “the marginal productivity of labor” and other economic assumptions.

Image: Thinkstock

They developed a “constraint-free” model that sought to “maximize the total net benefit (which could be intangible in real life),” the study explained. A “budget-constrained” model recognized that companies have different travel budgets. The latter “provides a rigorous way to maximize the benefit under a certain level of cost control and make it practical for the travel managers.”

The formulae researchers developed allow for plotting the cost-benefit of upgrades against flying times and budget variability. The study is available for purchase here.

Even better than business class on a commercial plane is flying on a private one. When are those worth the expense (and the PR grief)? Apple last week disclosed in a regulatory statement that in 2017 it began requiring its CEO to fly private aircraft whether he’s traveling on business or for personal reasons. The company called it a safety and security measure. Predictably, the revelation raised eyebrows.

Corporate jets are costly, but they can be valuable efficiency tools. Research published last month broke down the dynamic (3). “The dramatic increases in shareholder activism over the past decade have increasingly constrained firms’ ability to engage in value-destroying perquisite consumption,” according to an article in the Journal of Corporate Finance, but “calls to abolish such forms of executive perquisite consumption must be viewed with some caution.”

Associate professors Lian Fen Lee and Susan Shu of Boston College and Michelle Lowry from Drexel University conducted the research. They studied 62,229 private flights flown within the domestic United States by 240 firms, ranging from very large to very small.

They sorted the flights into “internal” (headquarters to other company locations), “resort” (more likely motivated by non-business reasons, though the category includes popular conference locales) and those to all other external locations (“likely” a mix of personal and business use flights).

corporate jet
Image: Thinkstock

Researchers found that internal flights increased company performance. This was particularly true among firms with “diverse business lines and greater internal information asymmetry.” In other words, when companies have “intangible” and “complex” information that is harder to send remotely than convey in person, they send execs on corporate jets. Those with higher R&D spending, for example, often have greater intangible value.

On the flip side, misuse of corporate jets diminishes value. Flights “more likely motivated by personal benefit” were to resort locations like Las Vegas, Scottsdale and West Palm Beach.

Companies with longer-tenured CEOs and “a dual class share structure” — when the superior share class generally controls more than 50 percent of the votes — tended to have a higher proportion of resort flights. The dual structure fell under what the researchers deemed as “poor governance,” also defined by such other forms of “entrenchment” as “CEO/chair duality, classified board, and the presence of a poison pill.” Researchers found a correlation between poor governance and decreased value of internal flights.

In general, “greater institutional ownership [was] strongly negatively associated with external flights,” according to the study, “but not significantly related to internal flights.”


(1) Business Travel and Behavioral and Mental Health also will be published in an upcoming print edition of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Other authors were Tracey A. Revenson, PhD, Department of Psychology, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; and Michael Friedman, PhD, Medical Advisory Board, EHE International. EHE provided funding for the research.

(2) A Quantitative Approach To Determine A Corporate’s Optimal Seat Upgrading Policy of Air Travels was authored by Shenxuan Chen from New York University’s Department of Economics, Guangjie Ren from the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose and Miao He from IBM Research-China in Beijing. The dataset derived from the undisclosed company’s booking records included nearly 12,000 direct, primarily domestic U.S. flights not longer than 16 hours.

(3) Are All Perks Solely Perks? Evidence From Corporate Jets, published in Journal of Corporate Finance, December 2017, studied corporate jet usage among 240 firms with at least “one distant company location.” Of the more than 62,000 corporate flights analyzed, nearly half were on routes with no direct commercial services. On those, “the best commercial alternative” took twice as long, according to the study. On 1.6 percent of routes flown by corporate jets there were no “viable” commercial alternatives. About 10 percent of all flights were to resort locations (including many for industry conferences). Companies within 100 kilometers of a top 10 airport had “significantly fewer” external flights but “no analogous effect among internal flights, a difference likely driven by the remote location of many distant company plants, meaning direct flights are limited even from the top airports.” Companies in the manufacturing industry had the highest number of corporate jet flights, 91 per year on average. Companies in the “wholesale, retail, and some services” category had the least, 31.

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