The mobile workforce – trends affecting health and wellness

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Business travel comes with many hurdles and headaches you don’t have time to deal with.

If Mother Nature does not play ball, security measures, long queues at airports and flight delays are just some of the more obvious stressors with which the modern-day road warrior has to contend.

A recent briefing by International SOS and Control Risk on the results of the latest Ipsos MORI Global Business Resilience Trends Watch 2018 survey revealed two emerging trends when it comes to traveller health and wellbeing.

Mental health and wellness

While there is nothing gimmicky about health and wellness programmes for corporate travellers, a trend that is emerging and has gained quite a lot of media exposure recently, is the mental health and wellness of modern-day road warriors.

According to International SOS, about 12% of the global population is diagnosed with major depression. Mental ill-health, they claim, affects three out of every five employees.

How does this relate to business travel?

With frequent travel, mental health issues are more prominent. Travelling through different time zones (‘jetlag’), poor sleep and diet, a lack of work/life balance and social isolation from friends and family have been identified as the top stress factors for business travellers, along with having to contend with different organisational cultures or structures.

For this reason, International SOS is urging corporations to destigmatise mental health by creating a corporate environment where mental health is recognised as a serious medical condition like a heart defect or lung condition. That it is also taken into consideration for employees who often need to travel and spend a considerable amount of time away from their homes and family.

It is estimated that failed business assignments can cost companies thousands upon thousands. Companies are investing in the success of their mobile workforce’s business trips and overseas assignments, but emotional support systems are often overlooked that can increase the likelihood of a failed assignment.

However, it is not just people who are away for long periods who need emotional support. Those who have shorter but frequent trips rarely see their workload reduced to offset the time away from their desk. This can produce anxiety as work continues to accumulate, while the impact on life at home through the loss of a family role and an imbalance in domestic responsibility can be significant.

Organisations sending employees on short or long-term assignments abroad need to consider pre-trip emotional support that is appropriate for the destination and reactive response support systems that can be implemented quickly in times of an unexpected incident or accident:

The top incidents that have had the most impact on business travellers in the past are:

  • Working in a high-risk environment (country or workplace at risk…) at 50%
  • Personal incident (sexual assault, theft and robbery, road traffic accident, workplace injury…) at 45%
  • Terrorist or environmental incident (earthquake) at 33%
  • Death or severe injuries of a colleague at 21%

Air pollution

Have you given much thought to air pollution, let alone the effect that it may have on your travellers’ health and well-being?

While the topic of air pollution is discussed frequently in the news, and affects business operations in many ways, little emphasis is put on how it affects corporate travellers. This is changing, however.

There is a growing trend among corporate travellers who are conscious and concerned about the air pollution levels in the destinations to which they are travelling.

The World Health Organisation estimates that about 92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality guidelines levels are not met. Thus, whether you are in Manila, São Paolo or even London, air pollution can affect your health.

For healthy people, air pollution can cause minor symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and irritation of eyes and nose. People with underlying health issues, however, such as heart problems and respiratory diseases, can suffer aggravation of their illnesses, which make it a definite risk for corporate travellers and something to be considered.

International SOS provides the following tips for minimising exposure:

Know your risks: Look at the destination in question, is business travel essential to that destination, during that specific time. Also look at your travellers: do they have any underlying medical conditions or diseases?

Monitor air quality in the destination: During periods of high pollution, travellers already in a destination should try to stay indoors, reduce physical activity and consider using a mask if stepping outdoors.

• Technology: For areas that are regularly subject to high levels of air pollution, consider technology which can improve indoor air quality, such as air filters in hotels and office buildings.