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How to avoid the pitfalls of business travel

By Jack Campbell | |7 minute read
How To Avoid The Pitfalls Of Business Travel

Business travel is a necessary task for many operating in the corporate world. Despite its importance, the negative consequences should be recognised and properly dealt with to protect employee wellbeing.

These themes are even more severe for those in management positions, noted The Bayans Healthcare founder Ruth Limkin.

“Senior management work, in general, can take a massive toll on mental wellbeing, with new research from The Banyans Healthcare revealing over half (55 per cent) of Australian managers say work has negatively impacted their mental health – compared to only one in three (32 per cent) non-managers,” Limkin said.


“Corporate travel, however, can add an extra layer of stress to these individuals, compounding already busy schedules and high-stress work with irregular sleeping hours, jet lag, social isolation from family, and pressures to eat and drink in excess or simply less access to healthy food.”

“In fact, additional research also highlights the pervasive health impacts frequent travel can have, with business travellers exhibiting higher rates of disturbed sleep, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol dependence, anxiety and depression.”

These compounding issues can culminate in a stressful and overwhelming work environment.

Limkin said: “When you lack a kitchen to prepare your own food, are facing long flights and jet lag, or working to a busy schedule with few breaks, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the time to prioritise mental health. The chronic stress of working on the go and not having a proper, structured place where you can rest, reset and recover will inevitably catch up with you, unless people implement proactive strategies to mitigate the impacts.”

While eliminating or even reducing business travel may not be an option depending on the role, mitigating stressful situations should be top of mind for employees. Routine plays a major part in this, said Limkin.

“Being able to build routine is crucial for improving mental wellbeing; however, business travellers may struggle to maintain steady habits that buffer the adverse effects of work on their mental health. This is especially true when working away involves committing free time to work-associated activities such as being in transit or meetings over dinner,” Limkin said.

“Drawing on my own experiences as a frequent corporate traveller, alongside my work with other business leaders, I recommend business travellers develop maintainable and easy-to-implement habits that promote mindfulness, sleep, exercise, good nutrition, and time outside.”

Limkin further listed some strategies for improving wellbeing on the move:

  • Build mindfulness into your day: Going from hotel to venue and boardroom to boardroom, it can be difficult to take time for yourself. Try taking five minutes at the start or end of the day to journal, practice breathing on a balcony or meditating before bed.
  • Prioritise sleep as much as you can: It is common for a dinner to run over time, or you will find yourself at the airport in the small hours of the morning. You won’t always be able to control when you sleep, or even where – however, you can take steps to ensure it is quality sleep. Keep the hotel room as dark and cold as possible to promote sleep.
  • Ensure you are avoiding caffeine or alcohol late into the evenings: Ask the hotel to empty the minibar to remove temptation, which can be harder to resist when tired and lonely.
  • Make breaks to be in the sun: Research shows a positive correlation between sunlight and mental health symptoms. Make time to step outside between meetings and conferences to give yourself a chance to reset and be surrounded by nature.
  • Use the space available as best as you can: We know that exercise can reduce symptoms of mental illness, as well as improve sleep, concentration, and energy. Do yoga in your hotel room, or use the hotel gym – even if it’s late at night for 20 minutes on the treadmill. Adopt a “something is better than nothing” mindset and take a quick walk through the city, or even just between desks or around the airport to get moving.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks: While you may not always have the facilities to prepare your own food, you can still control what you’re eating. If you pre-prepare and pack protein bars, nuts and low-sugar treats, you can eat these instead of the often-unhealthy options available at meetings and events like high-carb pastries or sweet desserts. Staying hydrated by drinking water or herbal tea will also help mental alertness.

As for employers sending staff on these journeys, wellbeing must be taken into consideration, and the health and safety of employees should be considered at every point of the process.

“One of the most important steps leaders can take is to foster organisational cultures that promote and prioritise good health and wellbeing, which can then be replicated when employees are travelling for work. We can lead by example when on the road with colleagues, and demonstrate healthy habits, such as making time to be active in the hotel gym or going for a walk, consuming nourishing foods, politely declining alcohol and excess coffee and maintaining good sleep. By making small actions, our teams will also recognise how beneficial these behaviours are,” Limkin said.

“I would also recommend leaders have an active role in planning work trips to ensure the needs and wellbeing of team members are factored in to planning flights, hotels, and events. You may want to have an internal policy that hotels should have exercise facilities, or setting a practice to avoid extremely early flights, which disrupt sleep. Installing briefing and debriefing sessions before and after workplace travel will also effectively help leaders identify gaps in knowledge and behaviours amongst employees and develop strategies to help bridge these gaps.”

She concluded: “Workshops and professional development opportunities can be fantastic ways to normalise a culture shift within your organisation and underscore the importance of maintaining wellbeing for workers.”

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.