by WEX Travel
In light of recent terror attacks and natural disasters around the world, traveling can be worrisome for even the most seasoned business traveler. Travel has always carried inherent risk; however, as employees are “far and away” on company business, employers simply have less control over their workers’ health and safety when they’re outside of the traditional office space. This makes it imperative that they pay attention to “Duty of Care” issues as part of their travel policy.
And since the global stage is rife with geo-political uncertainties, duty of care is getting increased attention from travel managers. In fact, the Phocuswright 2015 Travel Manager Survey found that behind cost savings and policy compliance, 39% of respondents are concerned with managing traveler safety and upholding duty of care. Here are some best practices travel managers can consider while addressing their own policies.
- Have a plan.
Duty of care is handled differently from one company to the next and not every organization has an official duty of care plan. It’s essential to have one. According to a legal brief on travelweekly.com, the US, unlike other countries, lacks federal or state regulations requiring companies to take any particular steps to protect traveling employees. What’s more, while travel agencies and tour operators have to investigate and warn travelers about actual or potential dangers that may impact them, those duties do not apply to buyers of travel such as corporations.
Maybe that’s why TravelMarketReport.com puts “focus on duty of care” on its list of 7 corporate travel trends for 2016—there’s a big gap in accountability that companies want to actively address. To help manage risks, companies are updating their travel policies and implementing new technology to help monitor employees’ locations and communicate with them in the case of an emergency. And if they find duty of care tasks too overwhelming or outside the scope of their human resources capabilities, they’re working with external travel management companies to handle them.
- Identify specific travel hazards.
Even if a travel partner is managing their “crisis plan,” corporate travel managers need to assess their organizations’ biggest potential threats and stay on top of changes that may affect employees, especially those traveling abroad. A Travel Leaders Group Survey of US-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents found that more than one in 10 participating corporate travel agent specialists have been involved in a “Duty of Care” situation involving a business traveler. The top 5 circumstances where clients required assistance were:
- Airline emergencies
- Civil unrest in international countries
- Terrorist incident
Other risks may include health-related issues such as illness, fatigue or stress. It comes down to whatever may compromise the safety and security of employees—and many of the risks are dependent upon how they’re traveling, where they’re traveling, when they’re traveling and for how long they’re away. These variations need to be carefully considered by travel managers while devising duty of care and crisis plans.
- Get employee buy-in—and keep them engaged.
For employee peace of mind, duty of care issues need to be promoted among the traveling workforce. Presently, it appears companies have a lot of work to do along these lines. A recent Association of Corporate Travel Executives study shows business travelers are more skeptical than their travel managers about the efficiency of duty of care programs that are in place, rating their programs' safety and security lower than travel managers did.
This echoes research cited in GBTA’s Guide to Travel Risk Management. A survey of US and UK travelers highlights travelers’ lack of preparation and generally poor perception of their employers’ travel safety program:
- 80% think their company has a legal obligation to ensure their safety while traveling abroad on business
- 54% carry no specific contact phone number for use in a crisis abroad
- 52% would consider legal action if they were not supported properly
- 46% work for firms with no clear travel security policies
- 36% have little confidence that their firm would provide correct information during overseas emergencies
- 22% have no idea who to alert in case of an emergency
Not only will getting employees on board with the company’s duty of care plan help them feel more secure while outside of the office, it will also enhance policy compliance efforts and increase employee satisfaction with their corporate travel program. These are cost and employee retention issues at the heart of most company’s HR objectives.
Also, ensure an effective communications strategy is in place—before, during, and after travel, always, but especially in the event of an issue. Prior to the trip, inform employees of potential risks and alert them to resources at their disposal. Give them a plan of action should they run into any trouble and need to book alternate accommodations, for example. Keep employees in-the-loop while they’re away by staying in contact, if necessary, via phone, email or text messaging. And be sure to follow-up with travelers to make sure they felt safe while on the road and get their feedback on ways to improve the flow of information regarding duty of care issues.