Another study links frequent business travel and bad health

Research commissioned by the International SOS Foundation for its ‘Keeping International Business Travellers Happy & Heathy’ white paper shows the mental and physical challenges that international travel can have on employees.

The research seems to support other studies claiming that there are adverse mental and physical health effects caused by frequent business travel, including a study published by the Harvard Business Review showing that over 70% of business travellers reported some symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle.


Impact on health

The research shows the impact travel may have on both physical and mental health. 45% of respondents claimed to experience an increase in stress levels while on a business trip, while 41% said their mood suffered. 31% said they experienced emotional exhaustion, which is a feature of burnout, on a weekly basis (this was particularly prevalent in international business travellers who have children). A quarter of respondents said their mental health issues were more prevalent during business trips. These included: heightened levels of depression (27%), stress (24%), and anxiety (23%).

Along with the mental health issues, physical health demands also increased, including more hours spent working (78%), travellers less likely to have a balanced diet (76%) or exercise (also 76%). 73% of business travellers said they suffered from reduced quality of sleep while on the trip.

Dr Rachel Lewis, associate professor in occupational psychology, Kingston Business School and director, Affinity Health at Work, added: “The combination of the physical demands and restrictions of international business travel can have a major impact on employees’ physical and psychological health. The disruption of being away from home can affect eating patterns as well as opportunities to keep up a regular exercise routine.  Many people rely on this kind of activity to keep a healthy balance both physically and mentally, whether they are at home or away. This may be why only 40% of international business travellers reported a sufficient work/life balance.”


Supporting your travellers

According to Professor Robert Quigley, senior vice president and regional medical director at International SOS, organisations could do a lot more to support and protect their business travellers.

The research showed that 77% of organisations provided or enabled booking/arrangement of travel logistics, 72% chose quality hotel accommodation, 65% allowed employees to add on ‘bleisure’ time, and 59% provided long-haul business-class flights. But only 34% had an employee assistance plan in place, only 25% had a wellness programme, and only 21% offered mental health support to their travellers.

Quigley added: “The logistics of business travel are a well-trodden path, but the mental wellbeing of employees who travel regularly is being overlooked, and could be having a major impact on both personnel and the health of a business.  Appropriate support and advice, encompassing behavioural, physical and psychological health, can be the difference between a successful business trip and a costly failed one.”

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