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Symposium Reveals High Cost Of Frequent Business Travel

By Tim Stevens Limiting the number of days spent on the road, avoiding weekend departures, imposing time for rest and recuperation -- these were some of the recommendations to employees suggested at a recent travel-health symposium in Washington. D.C., hosted by the World Bank and the Intentional Monetary Fund's Joint Health Services Dept. The meeting focused on how international business travel causes psychological disorders and how these health concerns affect organizations whose staffs travel frequently. The conference was prompted by a World Bank study that found rates of health-insurance claims were 80% higher for men and 18% higher for women travelers than their non-traveling counterparts at the Bank. The World Bank employs more than 11,000 people in 100 countries, many of whom travel frequently. Those who do complained of infectious diseases such as diarrhea as well as a surprisingly high number of psychological problems. Two follow-up surveys of the Bank's staff presented at the symposium showed that travelers were most concerned about the impact business trips had on their families and personal lives. Travelers also pointed to other stress factors such as a heavy workload, isolation, and loneliness while away; health and safety concerns; and loss of sleep due to jet lag. Many stressed the difficulties of finding a "balance" between completing work and family demands. Spouses, too, responded that frequent traveling led to stress, isolation, and anxiety. Both spouses and travelers said the longer the trips, the more stress they cause. Many also pointed to uncertain and changing travel dates as a significant stress factor. Close to 100% of the spouses described their returning mates as being irritable and withdrawn. Similar studies from numerous organizations presented at the symposium emphasized that stress and jet lag from frequent travel affect employee's mood, judgment, and decision making, ultimately hampering the organization's objective while increasing the costs of doing business. "(In) the business travelers' experience, the increase in psychological disorders is mirrored in the family," says Bernhard Liese, senior health adviser of the World Bank's Africa Region in the symposium's keynote address. "The bottom line is this phenomenon does not only affect the traveler, it affects the household. And if it affects the traveler, if it affects the household, it is very likely, almost certain, that it affects the workplace." Some recommendations to employers:

  • Allow travelers to call home for free every day.
  • Train managers to become more sensitive to how changing travel dates at the last minute affects families.
  • Allow more flexible travel arrangements.
  • Make better use of new technologies such as video conferencing to interact with clients.
  • Reduce the length of business trips.
  • Compensate for weekends away from home.
  • Allow employees to refuse traveling when dates change.
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