The hidden costs of traveller stress

Caught in the queue at an airport security checkpoint, I was surprised to hear a group of experienced business travellers chatting about their growing sense of insecurity during their travels. One even confessed to actually feeling uneasy aboard the plane. The subject of stress on the move is not new and comes up frequently in the business travel press, but have we made any progress to alleviate these stress points?

The main sources of stress are:

  • Preparation and booking of the trip
  • Lost or delayed luggage
  • Lack of telephone or internet connection
  • Loss of identity documents or payment method
  • Accident or illness while travelling
  • Travelling in economy on medium- and long-haul trips
  • Delays in general
  • Cheap hotels
  • Travelling at the weekend
  • The duration of the trip
  • Non-direct trips, worrying about the time needed for connections
  • Waiting at security control and customs
  • Security in the destination country
  • The discomfort of jet lag
  • Transfer from the airport or railway station to your destination

Added to these sources of stress is the fear of flying, which according to specialists in the field affects one in 10 people. While this figure is certainly lower among regular business travellers, this group is not spared. I was surprised when one of my colleagues, after missing a flight, admitted that he was so scared of flying that he could not hold himself together and was sometimes unable to board the plane. This is not an isolated case and much publicised terror attacks and accidents futher heighten the levels of anxiety.

What can we do when faced with this comprehensive list, which contains a mixture of very different sources of stress, with wide ranging impacts varying from one individual to another, or even from one gender to another?

The human impacts are difficult to quantify. A study by HEC Carlsonwagonlit in 2013, published by the Harvard Business Review, attempted to evaluate this by transforming stress into lost time, with an average maximum cost of $662 per air trip. Trying to model a stress index was ambitious, but the approach does not seem to have had a lasting impact on the market, yet this simple diagram taken from the HEC CWT study should make us think.


Comparison of the stress level by function at each stage of the trip, with the white line being the average between the times of stress and less stress.  The gender distribution not shown here indicates that women are still under even greater stress than men.

Invitations to tender aimed at lowering prices rather than the needs of the traveller, remain the norm. Good practice would be to balance the needs of the traveller with price, looking at best value to both ensure the happiness of travellers whilst keep costs at a reasonable level. A service based on the quality of communication, the reliability and simplicity of the tools available, the coordination of information, and the transfer of skills from the most experienced to the most novice travellers.

In the age of social networks and the birth of “chief happiness officers” it would certainly be wise to involve Human Resources more closely in calls for tenders for business travel.

Human capital is, more than ever, a company’s most expensive and sensitive asset.  A “cost killer” approach is largely outdated if the Company wishes to attract and more importantly retain its employees.

The stress of a business trip is too serious to entrust solely to buyers who purchase based on price.  It is the responsibility of company stakeholders to address this dimension in close collaboration and to include HR managers.

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