Hitting the road or skies for business is a great way for many workers to advance their careers. Young-adult travelers are enthusiastic, the middle-aged worry about family obligations, and older veteran travelers go with the flow. Yet all experience personal and work-related stress associated with traveling. And that means opportunities for companies that can make life on the road a little easier.
Linda Percefull of Tulsa, Oklahoma, relishes the opportunity to travel on business because it gives her a break from the office routine and a chance to explore new places. But every city is pretty much the same to Harold Ostin of Menlo Park, California, who's been traveling on business for more than 30 years. Tim Case of Reston, Virginia, tries to limit his business trips to two or three days at a time, because he doesn't like to be away from his home and family for long. But Sharon Beal of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, admits that she sleeps best when she's out of town on business.
Whether a person sees business travel as an exciting escape, a drudgery to be endured, or just another day at the office varies widely. A February 1997 telephone survey of 500 frequent business travelers by Roper Starch Worldwide for Hyatt Hotels found that sex, age, marital status, and family status can provide clues about who loves business travel and who'd rather stick close to office desk and home recliner.
Understanding the attitudes and stress factors that affect business travelers can be helpful to companies that must recruit and retain employees for hard-to-fill travel jobs. Companies that cater to business travelers--airlines, hotels, car-rental companies, travel agencies, and electronic communications equipment manufacturers--may also benefit from knowing what may make business travel more bearable or pleasant.
The Heat Is On More than eight in ten business travelers say working on the road is stressful, but not overly so, the survey found. Five percent of business travelers say their travel is very stressful, but three-fourths say it is only somewhat stressful or a little stressful. One in five business travelers doesn't find business travel stressful at all.
Stress is a byproduct of business travel for people of many different ages and travel patterns. But while stress levels may be uniform across all groups, the sources vary greatly. There are sharp distinctions in what induces stress for men and women travelers, the married and unmarried, and those with and without children under age 18 at home. Travelers' age and number of years on the road also influence their anxiety levels.
"The greatest determinant of a person's feelings about business travel is the person's family status: whether the person is single, married, has younger or older children or no children at all," says Mark Walker, a psychiatrist with Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. "Why? Because every traveler faces a load of work upon returning to the office. But family status determines whether the business traveler returns to a stressed-out spouse with young children, or an employed older spouse happy for a brief break."
This doesn't mean that businesses should only hire people who are married to their work, Walker says. But businesses with employees in high-travel jobs should be aware of who suffers from travel-related stress and try to accommodate their needs.
Business travel is hardest on workers with young families. Married travelers and those who are living as married are far more likely than the nonmarried to say being away from home and family is a source of stress for them. More than three-fourths of married business travelers find it difficult to be away from home, compared with about half of their nonmarried counterparts. Nearly six in ten married travelers say they experience stress when missing family milestones, such as a birthday, a wedding anniversary, or a child's sporting event, because of business travel. But that's true for only 42 percent of nonmarried travelers.
Workers with children are especially stressed by their nights on the road. And the younger their children, the more pressure they feel. Ninety-six percent of business travelers with children aged 7 or younger, and 81 percent with children aged 8 to 17, say it is difficult to cope with being away from home and family. Only about 60 percent without children at home agree.
Traveling for business also affects family members other than children, since an absent spouse or partner usually means more work for the adult at home. Business travelers with children under age 18 are also twice as likely as those without children that age to receive complaints from a family member about their absence. Two-thirds of travelers with children aged 7 and younger, and 59 percent with children aged 8 to 17, have received such complaints, compared with 31 percent of travelers without children at home.
Tim Case, who goes on about 36 business trips per year, says he tries to limit his absences to no more than three days because he doesn't like being away from his wife and two daughters aged 6 and 3. "A two-day trip is typical, but three days is pushing it--although I do go on two or three trips a year where I'm gone a week," he says.
With a grueling travel schedule and long hours, one-third of married business travelers say they personally pay the biggest price for their work on the road. But an equal proportion think their spouse bears the brunt of the stress. Sixteen percent say the children pay the biggest price, while 14 percent say there is no price to be paid. Business travelers with children aged 7 or younger are most likely to say their spouse pays the biggest price for their business travel, with 40 percent saying so. The same share with children aged 8 to 17 think the kids suffer the most.
Almost eight in ten married business travelers think their travel has made no difference in their marriage, while 12 percent think it has helped their marriage. Nine percent concede it has hurt their marriage. Among business travelers who make 25 or more trips per year, 14 percent think business travel has hurt their marriage, but 22 percent think it helped.
The majority of business travelers with children younger than 18 think their business travel led to their kids being disappointed a little (53 percent) or a lot (9 percent). But nearly four in ten didn't think their kids were disappointed at all. One-fourth of unmarried travelers with children say their children are disappointed a lot, possibly because their time with a non-custodial parent in particular may be fragmented.
A child's disappointment is the hardest on them, say business travelers who are parents. "I've been on business trips with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter on the phone crying for me to come home," says Sharon Beal, assistant vice president of sales for Criterion Communications, a multimedia marketing company in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. "When my child is upset, I can't take it. It is very hard."
One reason why some children are disappointed may be that business travelers often miss special occasions. Eight in ten say they have been absent from home for at least 1 of 16 selected occasions. Thirty-five percent have missed a child's sporting event, while 33 percent have been away from home when their child was sick. An equal share have missed a family birthday, and about one-fourth have been absent from a child's performing arts event or a wedding anniversary.
A child or spouse's disappointment may sting, but not too badly. Almost half of business travelers say they would be willing to miss any occasion, including a traditional holiday such as Christmas, a friend or family member's wedding, or a funeral, if they needed to go out of town on business.
Work and the Single Traveler Workers who are married or living as married are less likely than their married counterparts to complain of travel detracting from their family lives. But they are more likely to experience work-related stress due to business trips. Eight in ten nonmarried business travelers find it difficult to cope with work not getting done back at the office, compared with 72 percent of married travelers. Fifty-five percent worry about pressure to perform their job on the road, but less than half of married travelers share this worry.
Without the distractions of spouse and children, nonmarried business travelers may make work a greater priority. "I'm paying my dues now," says John Leh, a 27-year-old account executive for Criterion Communications in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Leh says he works 15- to 17-hour days on the three to five days he is out of town every third week. "I don't plan on doing this forever. I hope to move up the chain of command. I'm sure even then I will have to travel, but it will be a different kind of travel."
In some ways, business travel may take a greater personal toll on the unmarried than the married. Almost half of nonmarried travelers, but only 30 percent of married travelers, say they would stop traveling on business if they knew it wouldn't hurt their careers. One reason may be that unmarried travelers have domestic responsibilities of their own, but no spouse or network of extended family to help out.
With no one to mind the house, pay the bills, and feed the cat while they are away, unmarried travelers and adults aged 18 to 34 are the most likely of all business travelers to express worry about their personal obligations. Sixty-three percent of unmarried travelers, young adults, and those who have been traveling for less than five years say that business travel causes them to worry about managing their personal lives. In contrast, only 44 percent of married travelers worry about personal obligations when they are on the road.
Unmarried and young-adult business travelers may be a ripe market for companies that can help them manage their households while maintaining a hectic travel schedule. While 92 percent of married business travelers rely on their spouse to keep the home running smoothly, business travelers who are not married must call in a variety of other resources. Three in ten nonmarried business travelers enlist another family member, and 20 percent have a good neighbor who comes over. Another 18 percent rely on friends for help. Eleven percent either lean on a helpful roommate or a significant other, or hire someone to help them.
Some big companies, including Starbucks, Boeing Company, and Eddie Bauer, lend a hand of sorts by contracting with information and referral services such as Working Solutions in Portland, Oregon. Working Solutions won't send a mechanic out to start the car stuck in the driveway, but it will help find one. Or it might locate a church of a particular denomination in a city to which someone is relocating or a restaurant appropriate for business entertaining in an unfamiliar locale.
The company started out in the early 1980s providing referrals for child- and elder-care services, says Ginger Hackett, vice president for business development. It has since expanded to legal and financial planning referrals, and mental health counseling. With offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., Working Solutions takes requests around the clock, and generally answers questions within 48 hours, Hackett says.
New banking technologies help some travelers hold it all together. Barry Friedman, a comedian from Tulsa, Oklahoma, sometimes travels for three or four weeks at a time. His bank takes care of some bills automatically, and he can handle others from a computer wherever he is. His home answering machine serves as business receptionist, and friends check his mail and water his plants. "I have a rule. If anyone gives me a plant, they have to come over and check on it," he says.
Many utilities, insurers, and mortgage companies are encouraging customers to pre-authorize a draft each month directly from the customer's bank account. A variety of personal computer- and World Wide Web-based bank services let customers check account balances, transfer money between accounts, and prepare checks with a tap on the keyboard.
Home computer banking systems typically save users from searching again and again for addresses, envelopes and stamps, says Adam Samuels, public relations manager for Quicken, a leading personal finance software package. Users build a log of names and addresses and select one from the log when they want to make a payment. Only an amount needs to be entered each time. The bank then takes care of the transaction, either sending a paper check through the mail or via an electronic fund transfer. "It's a great way to keep track of finances wherever you are," Samuels says.
Being away from their home port doesn't necessarily dampen the social lives of unmarried business travelers. Seven in ten say job-related travel hasn't dramatically affected their social life and ability to date. Twelve percent say travel has enhanced their social lives, while the same share say it's hurt theirs. The unmarried may turn business travel into a social advantage. Almost half say they are more adventurous on the road than at home, compared with 31 percent of married travelers. Unmarried travelers are also more than twice as likely as their married counterparts to say they enjoy flirting with strangers while traveling--22 percent, compared with 9 percent of married business travelers.
One reason adults aged 18 to 34 share many travel-related attitudes with unmarried business travelers is because they are unmarried. Yet they also exhibit a unique characteristic--they are the most enthusiastic about hitting the road on business.
Nine in ten business travelers aged 18 to 34 say they enjoy business travel because they get a chance to see new places. Almost 70 percent say overnight business travel makes them feel important; 60 percent say overnight business trips provide a needed break from home and regular life.
Linda Percefull, who is a single, age 34, and vice president and public relations director for Littlefield Marketing & Advertising Inc. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, often tacks on a few extra weekend days to her business trips to Chicago and New York. This gives her a chance to take advantage of big-city attractions, restaurants, museums, and shopping. By staying overnight on a Saturday, she also reduces airfare expenses for her company. "I'm fortunate. I like the places I travel to. I get to go to bigger cities," she says.
Being away from the office appears to be a kind of liberation for young adults in particular. Travelers aged 18 to 25 are most likely to say they are more confident on the road than in the office, at 25 percent, compared with 18 percent of all business travelers. Yet young adults lack confidence in their efficiency while on the road. Eighty-five percent say they usually finish a business trip with a feeling of having accomplished what they set out to do, compared with 94 percent of all travelers.
Wisdom of the Ages Veteran business travelers are distinct from all others, in large part because they are likely to be older, married with no young children at home, and accustomed to the discomforts of the road. Very little upsets them, but they lack the enthusiasm of travelers aged 18 to 34.
Workers who have been traveling for 20 or more years are the least stressed of all travelers by work not getting done back at the office (67 percent compared with 73 percent of all travelers); the lack of control over their schedule (45 percent versus 49 percent), and pressure to perform their job on the road (41 percent versus 46 percent). They are also less likely than average to view travel as a pleasant break from the office, or as something that makes them feel important.
One reason veteran travelers take their journeys in stride is they may be top executives with support staff to help manage work at the office. Since they're older, they are also more likely than younger travelers to have a spouse keeping the household running smoothly. Veterans may also calmly accept travel as a characteristic of their work lives.
After decades of traveling, these executives have learned the tricks of the trade to make the work and travel experience more productive and pleasant. Veteran travelers can ease the strain of dealing with unknown places by establishing favorite spots in cities they visit. I'm certainly a creature of habit, and do the same things no matter what the city," says Harold Ostin, a 54-year-old physical distribution consultant, who has been traveling extensively on business for more than 30 years. "I use the same brand of hotels, the same brand of rental car, and I go for the same type of car and the same type of hotel room. Also, when I find a good restaurant in a city, I don't need to find a second good restaurant."
Veteran travelers aren't necessarily more productive on the road than their younger, less-traveled counterparts. "It is arguable that a younger worker with a spouse and children at home is more motivated than an older person," says Walker of Northwestern University Medical School. "There is not necessarily a connection between stress they feel and performance on the job.
That's not to say that travel-related stress has no effect on employees' attitudes. Companies that can't offer travelers perks like concierge services have other options for keeping harried travelers happy. "The length of the trip matters greatly. Trips should be kept as short as possible," Walker says. "Also, the work ought to be perceived as meaningful by the traveler. Nothing upsets a business traveler more than spending a great deal of time away doing unimportant things."
Taking It Further "Take-Offs and Trade-Offs: The Life of Today's Business Traveler" is available from Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Department PR, 200 W. Madison Street, Chicago, IL 60606. Roper Starch Worldwide in New York can be reached at (212) 599-0700.
About the author Christy Fisher is a regular contributor to American Demographics and a freelance writer who lives in Arlington, Virginia.
Unexpected Occurrences (unexpected things that have happened to business travelers while traveling on business, by number of years traveling, 1996)
[DATA TABLE, see print edition]
Source: Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Chicago