(Reuters.com) - If work-related stress is a "21st-century disease", as the International Labour Organization puts it, what happens when a busy travel schedule is added to the equation?
According to a new study by a corporate travel agency, business travellers suffer especially keenly from stress. Using data gleaned from 6,000 travellers, Carlson Wagonlit Travel CWT.L found that unpleasant ‘surprises' like flight delays and luggage loss were the highest trigger of stress, especially for female travellers who were also more fazed by ‘routine breakers' like not being able to eat healthily.
However, women felt decidedly less stressed about flying economy than men.
CWT's "Travel Stress Index" also found that frequent fliers (over 30 trips per year) get most stressed from ‘lost time', with factors relating to the reimbursement of expenses, and from flying with a non-preferred airline, adding to their unease.
Because senior air warriors in particular travel so much, their stress levels have no time to drop before they set off on another trip. This is why, CWT says, there's a difference of four ‘stress points' between frequent travellers and occasional travellers.
While commending a study into a rarely examined issue, Cary L. Cooper, distinguished professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, disputes the idea of specific stress triggers to travellers.
"When people are travelling, it's not just about bags and all the rest of it - it's about the whole process: Separation from your family for a period of time; the hassle of the airport; travelling ‘cattle class'; problems with hotels - it does accumulate up," he said by telephone.
"If I was looking at the impact of travel on my team of marketing people, I would also look at their sickness absence rates in contrast with others in different functions; their turnover rate; their performance appraisal compared to others."
THE STRESS OF BEING ALONE
Though a comparison of stress between solo travellers and those journeying with companions was not included in the CWT study, it did find that business travellers with partners and families found that being on the road during weekends was significantly more stressful.
Professor Cooper, who has the luxury of travelling with his wife on business, thinks it is important for frequent travellers to bring colleagues, their spouse, or an older daughter or son with them to offset the inherent loneliness of being away from home. "If the person feels more relaxed, can unwind quicker, can get over the jetlag better, they will perform better."
IN MY ROOM
In a smaller study which recently probed the emotional health of business travellers, Fairfield Inn & Suites, a Marriott brand of select service hotel, found that the more one travels, the more likely they are to travel alone, with female travellers finding it more important than men to have someone to talk to.
Only 16 percent of the 1,000 respondents in this survey reported feelings of stress, but 38 percent said they missed important events in their home life. In their report, Fairfield stress the importance of pre- and post-trip planning to reduce stress.
Shruti Buckley, global brand manager for Fairfield Inn and Suites said in an interview she was surprised at the positive results, knowing how taxing and tough business travel can be, adding that hotel firms like hers are trying to create an environment where travellers can meet other people.
STRESS REDUCTION STRATEGIES
According to psychologist Prof. Cooper, companies never do cost-benefit analyses on whether to send people long-haul cheaply, or on business class.
"Is there a difference on traveller's attitude, tiredness, performance? Businesses think they're making a saving; but you get someone in a really tired, exhausted state going to do a deal and what happens?"
Adaptive travel policies are the way forward, thinks CWT. Vincent Lebunetel, co-author of its report, says he would recommend that clients take travellers' situations further into consideration. For example, "segmenting between those who are single, and those in couples or who have children, have a lot of stress travelling over the weekend or in trips of over three days."
For their part, Fairfield Inn & Suites are using the results of their research to increase co-working hubs in guestrooms for colleagues to share, and, like a number of other properties, are working on their lobbies to "create spaces that inspire and encourage people to gather."
Communal tables are being added, as are plug sockets so people can meet informally.
"Business travellers are always more critical judges of overall experience," says Buckley. "If we can meet their needs, we are almost automatically meeting the needs of leisure travellers."
(Editing by Mark Kolmar)