Victoria DeBoon is the director of sales of SAP Concur Canada
Business travel has a glamorous allure. After all, who doesn’t love to travel? Especially when accommodations, transportation and meals are seemingly all free. But those who often travel for business know that it’s not always smooth sailing. Plans can often go awry, be stressful and take an unexpected financial toll. A recent report revealed that many Canadian business travellers are actually stressed when it comes to travelling for work.
If you consider that, of the 316 million trips taken last year by Canadians, nearly 10 per cent of those were business trips, this is a lot of time Canadians spent stressed about corporate travel.
If business leaders want their employees to positively represent the company while on the road, they need to understand what’s causing employees to feel overwhelmed and how to effectively support them.
What are Canadians saying?
A new report of Canadian business travellers found many Canadians agree business travel is not all it’s cracked up to be. The entire process – from booking the trip, down to safety and privacy – is anxiety-inducing for many Canadians. They attribute a large part of this to lack of policies around accommodation, transport and other travel expenses while on the road. The most stressful part of travelling for business tends to be when employees are planning and booking their trip (47 per cent). This certainly is not how employees should begin a trip.
Through my years of travelling for work, I’ve had stressful experiences. My first business trip felt like a disaster. I was new, and I wanted to make a good impression, but everything went wrong. I mixed up the flight times and we arrived at the airport 25 minutes before departure – I had to beg the flight crew to let us board. Our hotel was overbooked, so we scrambled to find accommodations at the last minute. Then, a storm rolled in, knocking out power for days. This meant receipts weren’t printing for my purchases. Like most companies, my company’s policy was no receipt, no approval, no exceptions. Worried about having to pay out of pocket, I was lucky to have had an understanding supervisor. Back then, technology couldn’t have helped in the way it can today.
Who’s paying for this?
Not surprisingly, Canadian business travellers loathe the paperwork that follows a trip, mainly due to frequent delays in reimbursement. Almost half of respondents said they were more likely to see their plane leave on time than have their expenses reimbursed in a timely manner.
This delay has employees contemplating if they should even bother submitting expenses. Troublingly, 54 per cent of Canadian business travellers reported they forfeited expenses in 2018 (for an average of $1,421) either because they felt the expense was not worth filing or because their employer simply never reimbursed them. There is a clear need for companies to improve reimbursement processes.
The good news is, employees know what will help – better expense reporting tools and clear policies. Almost half of respondents said their company’s policies are unstructured or only somewhat structured, with rules that are not comprehensive. Furthermore, three in five cited a need for better expense reporting tools. To alleviate stress for employees, create policies that clearly outline what can be reimbursed and how long it will take, in addition to updating to modern tools that streamline the overall processes.
Feeling safe on the road is a major issue for Canadian corporate travellers. Female business travellers face striking levels of harassment and sexism on the road – 81 per cent have experienced some sort of harassment or mistreatment while travelling for business. Half of Canadian business travellers cited travel safety as the most valuable training their company could provide.
As business travel has become common for employees of all levels, leaders have a responsibility to look at offering resources and technology that will improve each employee’s experience and improve safety while on the road.
If there’s one thing employees know will make a difference, it’s technology. Canadian business travellers have become accustomed to using apps and smartphones to enhance their daily lives, but 73 per cent don’t believe their companies have kept up with the times. There are many tools that can help employers streamline booking processes, provide resources that allow employees to feel safe when they travel and simplify all the steps in between.
Business travel might not ever be glamorous, but it doesn’t have stressful.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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