New research by International SOS has identified the impact of business travel on people’s mental health and the need for Australian companies to improve emotional support for travelling staff.
Close to one million Australians travel overseas for work each year, but in doing so they potentially face an increased risk of stress, depression and anxiety that can have far-reaching consequences.
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.
The survey of almost 100 companies from Australia and New Zealand, part of a cross-regional study by International SOS, found 44 per cent do not provide mental health support to their business travellers.
Less than half of the companies who do provide support proactively communicate the emotional support offered to their business travellers.
“As links between the mental well-being of staff and business productivity become increasingly evident, executives and managers need to take into account the emotional well-being of their mobile workforce,” Andrew Ebringer, Regional Medical Director said.
“Failed international business assignments cost companies, on average, $950,000. Companies invest in the success of their mobile workforce’s business trips and overseas assignments but often overlook emotional support systems that can decrease the likelihood of a failed assignment.”
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,” Ebringer added.
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 per cent.
- Personal incident (sexual assault, theft and robbery, road traffic accident, workplace injury…) at 45 per cent
- Terrorist or environmental incident (earthquake) at 33 per cent
- Death or severe injuries of a colleague at 21 per cent
It is estimated that 45 per cent of Australians will have some kind of mental disorder at some point in their lives, yet 87 per cent of organisations surveyed do not have a mental health screening process for employees either pre or post-travel.
Under Workplace Health and Safety legislation in both Australia and New Zealand, it is critical for employers to combine an immediate response approach with a proactive one when it comes to managing mental health issues.
This responsibility integrates the topic of mental health under the ‘duty of care’ umbrella.
“Support for one’s overall well-being should include all three aspects of travel – medical, security and emotional support – as a holistic and integrated travel risk management service offered by organisations to their travellers,” Ebringer said.