It's hard to imagine a world in which business travel is a thing of the past, but technological advances are helping keep employees in the office, and Werk's TravelLite™ flexibility type offers employees a pre-negotiated number of days at home per month. And now, with recent research into the health costs of business travel, we're realizing just how important these new developments are.
Andrew Rundle, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology in the Mailman School of Public Health, discusses his team's new findings in Harvard Business Review. The researchers used anonymized medical records from EHE, Inc., a company that conducts health assessments on tens of thousands of employees per year. And the researchers found a "strong correlation between the frequency of business travel and a wide range of physical and behavioral health risks."
For example, workers who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month had higher body mass index scores than those who spent one to six nights away. They were also significantly more likely to report depression, anxiety symptoms, sleep trouble, smoking, alcohol dependence, sedentary lifestyles, and poor perceptions of their health. Meanwhile, the workers who spent 21 or more nights away from home per month were 92 percent more likely to be obese than those who traveled no more than six days per month, and they also suffered from higher diastolic blood pressure. Plus, as Rundle points out, these employees' negative health factors affect their employers' bottom lines— hrough higher medical claims, reduced productivity and performance, absenteeism, presenteeism, and short-term disability.
The team's research isn't alone. One World Bank study found that employees who traveled frequently had significantly higher medical insurance claims than their non-traveling counterparts, especially for stress-related disorders. And in another World Bank, 75 percent of employees reported high or very high levels of business travel-related stress.
Rundle offers suggestions for how employers could improve business travelers' health—they could provide gym subscriptions, for example, or offer cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction. But perhaps we should be focused on actually reducing business travel instead of just mitigating its health effects. Take the aforementioned TravelLite, for example. TravelLite employees have minimal to no travel—limited to four days per month or its annual equivalent—and they use virtual meetings to conduct meetings for which they would otherwise travel. In our research, 56 percent of survey respondents need TravelLite—including 70 percent of millennial male respondents—but only 17 percent had access to this flexibility type. It's time to eliminate that gap—for the sake of the employees, first and foremost, but also for the sake of the employers. And hey, just think of the expense reports that would never have to be filled out!