Corporate wellness is a hot topic with healthcare costs rising, and rates for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity increasing. In fact, corporate wellness services have exploded into a $2 billion industry. Corporate wellness programs focus on reducing employer healthcare costs by encouraging employees to make healthy lifestyle choices. Incentives, in-house facilities, and education are the key components of corporate wellness programs.
Incentives include rewards for employees participating in a wellness program, achieving certain health outcomes or metrics, or progress towards desired health outcomes such as, a targeted blood pressure, cholesterol, weight or body mass index (BMI) reading. These incentives or rewards include reduced insurance premiums, cash/gift cards, or contributions to health savings accounts.
While corporate wellness programs tend to focus on promoting general healthy lifestyle choices, they don't specifically address the unique environment of business travelers-the regular aircraft, car, train, hotel, and restaurant environment that change the dynamics and negatively impact the business traveler if not properly managed. If cost savings is the name of the game in corporate wellness then perhaps a closer look at corporate business travel is needed.
The cost of corporate wellness programs is estimated to increase to $594 per employee as employers recognize the importance of investing in preventative health initiatives. $594 is often less than one round-trip domestic or international airline ticket. 2 times more than the average daily US travel per diem, and 1.6 times the average international daily travel per diem. Less than the $662 of financial costs due to travel related stress per trip.
Corporate Business Travel Environment
Corporate business travel, on the other hand, is a $274 billion industry because business success requires travel.[i] There are an estimated 30 to 40 million business travelers in the US alone. Nearly 30 percent of the American working adult population is at much higher risk for cancer and overall poor health simply because travel is part of their job description and business travel increases a person's physical stress load by about 12 percent.[ii]
In addition to the health risks, frequent business travelers experience 20 percent less productivity due to jet lag. Business travelers often have less time to recover from journey related stress, which leads to "brain fog" and near-term and long-term illness. For pilots and cabin crew jet lag or fatigue results in safety risks. Type A personalities may not want to admit that criss-crossing time zones to close multi-million dollar deals exacts a toll on every aspect of their functioning from judgment and decision-making, to reaction time, and ability to communicate.
In Travel Stress Index: The Hidden Costs of Business Travel, Carlson Wagonlit concluded that business travelers lose an average of 6.9 hours due to stress, and that the financial cost of such loss of time amounts to $662 per trip. The 22 factors they measured were mostly logistical such as time to get to the airport, clearing immigration, lack of Internet service, flying economy, and delays. The #1 time and financial drain is associated with lost baggage. [iii]
But what about the health of the business traveler?
AirPlus International, the leading travel payment services company, conducted a survey, or what they call a traveller productivity study, on their traveling employees to address the health impact of travel related stress. The study revealed that business travelers get on average 21 minutes less sleep then non-business travelers, which leads to 12 percent less stress-related recovery time, which lowers productivity and increases the risk of illness and disease.
Twenty-one minutes of lost sleep may not seem like a lot, but physiologically it is wreaking havoc on these travelers.[iv] The business traveler is subject to a different environment than the non-travelling employee. This unique environment includes dehydration in an aircraft cabin traveling at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, time zone changes, limited physical activity, suboptimal sleep environments, and predominantly unhealthy food options. This makes the business traveler population unique when it comes to thinking about individual and corporate wellness programs.
How is travel wellness different from general wellness?
Frequent business trips are a lifestyle fostered by the employer. This is perhaps the number one difference from the lens of a corporate wellness program. Through corporate wellness programs employers try to manage general lifestyle and health habits that are often outside the workplace, even though more people are spending more time working at the office or remotely than ever before.
Corporate wellness programs assume that people have control over their environment and can engage in routine activities. Frequent business travelers have the exact opposite of a routine lifestyle. They are constantly on the go, which creates lack of certainty around diet and exercise habits. Even if employees travel regularly, there is nothing routine about sleeping in different beds, and different times and within different time zones, and inevitable delays that derail the best laid intentions and plans.
Travelers feel the most stressed in situations they can't control. Frequent business trips is a lifestyle for which many people are unprepared. Travel wellness is not part of business, MBA, or any other university training that prepares people for the workforce.
How does a travel wellness program differ from a corporate wellness program?
The major difference between a corporate wellness program and a travel wellness program is the operating environment. Travel wellness focuses on specific environments that physically impact employees, encourage certain behaviors such as unhealthy eating choices, limit quality sleep, and increase the average physical stress load of individuals under normal working conditions. See Table 1.
By requiring frequent business trips, employers are creating the environment for negative health consequences, unless they proactively help employees manage it. A travel wellness program can be a subset of a corporate wellness program if one already exists. Individual departments, such as sales, IT, and product development with large budgets and numerous traveling employees can also implement a travel wellness program.
While individuals can undertake their own planning, companies will reap the rewards of rolling out a company-wide travel wellness program. A travel wellness program has three parts:
- This includes eating right on the road, exercise, increasing energy, healthy flying, sleep, stress management, self-care, and immune system strengthening.
- Much like health metrics for corporate wellness programs, there are specific metrics that measure the health of the business traveler and her ability to manage the travel-related stress to reduce risk of illness and disease. Incentives are focused on an employee's antioxidant score, which measures immune system strength, body alkalinity, which measures an employee's ability to neutralize the physical effects of a dehydrated aircraft environment, and heart rate, which measures physical stress load and ability to recover from travel-related stress.
The incentives can be similar to those already offered by corporate wellness programs such as reduction in insurance premiums, contribution to health savings plans, and gift cards to healthy places or products for meeting these baseline metrics. More specifically, a travel wellness incentive can include a new travel expense category such as a reimbursed exercise studio day pass (including yoga and Pilates). A really progressive company may even tie the incentives to vacation time.
- The easiest way for employees to adopt travel wellness best practices is for employers to provide them with a list of recommended or preferred restaurants, hotels, or airlines that support travel wellness objectives and meet company expectations and travel wellness criteria for healthy food, exercise, and stress and sleep management.
During the Great Recession, many companies required employees to do more with less and increased workloads and stress. A travel wellness program will also need to look at the demands and expectations placed on business travelers in addition to the unique travel environment to be comprehensive. If corporate business travel is more than 200 times the size of corporate wellness, then a travel wellness program should provide more than 200 times the cost savings.
The Difference Between Corporate Wellness and Travel
Corporate Wellness: Environment: more routine between home and office or employees who telecommute. Incentives are focused on rewards for participating in a wellness program, achieving certain health outcomes or metrics, or progress towards desired health outcomes such as, a targeted blood pressure, cholesterol, weight or body mass index (BMI) reading.
These incentives or rewards include reduced insurance premiums, cash/gift cards, or contributions to health savings accounts. In-house facilities such as gyms, meditation rooms, yoga studio. Education that promotes healthy lifestyle choices eating habits, exercise, stress management, etc.
Travel Wellness: Environment: dynamic, constantly changing. The aircraft environment for example is unique and causes physical stress. Incentives are focused on specific travel related defenses such as immune system strength which can be measured by an antioxidant score) and alkalinity which measures ability to manage a dehydrated aircraft environment, or heart rate which measures physical stress load.
Incentives can also be created for enrolling in a travel wellness coaching program. Recommendations for hotels, airlines and restaurants that support travel wellness objectives. Education on travel wellness choices eating habits, exercise, increasing energy, healthy flying, stress management, self-care, strengthening immune system.
About the Authors
Christopher: Christopher Babayode is an expert in healthy flying as the "Go To Person" for healthy jet lag solutions for frequent fliers. Having logged over 15,000 flying hours over 16 years with British Airways - an airline with one of the most extensive networks in the world. As a flight attendant, frequent flier, nutritional therapist and British Airways Wellbeing and Inclusions Advisor Christopher's expertise comes from the practice of nutritional therapy and hands on knowledge of working with frequent fliers in the aviation industry on long and short haul for over a decade.
Natasha Lager is an international trade attorney turned global strategy consultant to start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. She is Founder and President of ITF Advisors, a strategy advisory firm and co-Founder and Editor of LBx Journal, a location intelligence magazine. Natasha is passionate about living a healthy, happy life while being a road warrior, and is author of Travel Healthy: A Road Warrior's Guide to Eating Healthy.
Jayne McAllister combines over 20 years of business travel with her passion for teaching long-lasting healthy habits to frequent travelers. Jayne has appeared on Fox News Channel and ABC in her capacity as a travel wellness expert, as well as in numerous magazines and on national radio. She is the founder of the Business Travel Wellness Conference; creator of dineoutloseweight.com and an ambassador for maiden-voyage.com. Jayne graduated from Cambridge University and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
[i] 2014 Business Travel Survey, Business Travel News, May 26, 2014, p.22.
ii Catherine A. Richards, Andrew G. Rundle. Business Travel and Self-rated Health, Obesity, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2011;
[iii] Travel Stress Index: The Hidden Costs of Business Travel, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, 2013.
[iv] AirPlus Traveller Productivity, Whitepaper, December 3, 2013.