Minimising the impact of business travel stress on event organisers

New year, new you. Wellbeing is top of the agenda for many event organisers. Matthew Holman, head of traveller wellbeing at Capita Travel and Events offers some top tips.

What are the most stressful parts of business travel and what is the best way to deal with them?

Business travel can be stressful. One of the ways we monitor the travel worries of employees is through regular surveys about their views of business travel. In a recent survey, we identified over 100 points of potential anxiety for travellers, which ranged from planning a trip, not knowing the location well, delays, cancelations, language and culture to home-related stresses including childcare, pet cover and personal social commitments. The challenge we have is to try and minimise the impact of these sources of stress for travellers.

Matthew Holman.

Matthew Holman.

To achieve a less stressful travel experience, we encourage travellers to embrace ‘smarter working’ – our approach to booking and travelling. Travellers should always consider alternatives to the trip in the first instance.

Is the trip necessary and how can it be as efficient and effective as possible? Through changes, such as advance booking as well as integrated itinerary information, a traveller can prepare mentally for it.

When changes happen during the trip, travellers benefit from our support and our technology, which has been developed to provide relevant and timely communications to help them. After the trip, we encourage the traveller to take time to recover and prepare for their next activities.

Tiredness is a big factor. How do you prepare psychologically for this?

We encourage travellers to sleep well and avoid stimulants, such as caffeine after lunch or alcohol in the evening. When travellers fly long-haul, their circadian rhythm is disrupted. On average it takes one day for each one-hour time zone change to reset your circadian rhythm to its home settings.

If employees have a fear of flying, what is the best way to deal with this?

The best way is to not pressurise travellers to conquer their fear of flying. We encourage travellers to seek additional support to work through their fears.

Suggestions to make a difference for business travel? Location, time, virtual meeting?

Through our ‘smarter working’ approach, we can: 1. Challenge the need for the trip, 2. Consider alternatives to travel, such as meetings via video call or conference call, 3. Consider the wellbeing elements of travel.

Can you suggest some coping strategies?
One of the best coping strategies I recommend for travellers is to practice mindfulness and breathing exercises. When travelling, try to stay connected with home and your normal routines. If you use the gym at home, make sure to pack your kit so you use the gym when travelling.

Managers have a duty of care towards their employees. What are the guidelines you would suggest for this?
Managers need to seek deeper and more-connected relationships with their employees. They should focus on understanding what the challenges are for the individuals and, where they see something that they are worried about, they should be open to having a discussion to understand the employee’s issues. The best leaders are the ones who show their employees empathy and compassion.

Managers should always consider the following for their employees:
1. Encourage alternatives to travel.
2. Check travellers are fit to travel before their trip.
3. Make sure that the traveller has downtime when they travel and do not work all hours.
4. Encourage time to recover from the trip – do not expect employees to come to the office directly from the airport.
5. Provide support if they are struggling to cope with the balance of work demands (travel) and home life.”

Any other wellbeing suggestions and advice for event organisers?

There’s no denying we work in an industry that involves a lot of travel so it’s important that this is taken into consideration when building travel and accommodation policies. There are three key things that an agency can do: Maintain a routine, enable flexibility and ensure time is taken off in lieu.

It is important that they enable staff, where possible, to keep to their routine. For example, if a hotel with a gym is an extra £10 for the night than the most cost-effective option, make sure staff have the option to book something that suits what they typically try do day-to-day, keeping that routine and allowing them a bit of head space at the end of what could’ve been a long and busy day shouldn’t be underestimated.

In the same vein, picking budget accommodation because it has the smallest impact on bottom line is great for budget reasons, but not if the quality of an employee’s sleep is affected as they won’t be bringing their best self to work the following day – which leads back to agencies considering the bigger picture.

Flexibility and balance are also important, there’s an element of give and take required. Being rigid with working patterns day-to-day isn’t going the get the best out of the team because everyone works differently. Acknowledging that, whilst making sure there’s an element of uniformity to drive fairness amongst a team is the way to develop an inclusive culture that recognises individuals for who they are.

We have also invested in Mental Health First Aid training and now have 24 qualified MHFA champions in all of our UK offices. I would recommend agencies training staff in this, as it also upskills employees. We also introduced initiatives, such as free fruit and displaying behavioural nudges in our offices, which offered suggestions for maintaining a healthy body and mind.

We have introduced a framework, entitled ‘the five ways to wellbeing’, to support the travellers and customers working in event agencies on the move.
The key principles include:
• Being active.
• Ensuring connection to enhance social relationships.
• Giving and supporting, with many of our suppliers training staff to increase awareness of mental health issues.
• Learning – whether it be in the libraries of a hotel, or more about themselves and their health with fitness experts of hotel chains.
• Taking notice and enabling travellers to be at their best for work.

We have hosted numerous ‘smarter working’ workshops with our employees and customers, as well as steering groups with suppliers to maximise our partnership so we can continue to enhance the overall traveller experience and improve traveller wellbeing.