Why Your Company Should Embrace More Travel in its Corporate Wellness Program

By
Sahara Rose De Vore
,
Travel Coach & Consultant
of
Sahara Rose Travels, LLC
By
,
of

It’s undeniable that everyone values travel in their life to some extent. People travel for deeper reasons than to just get away because it provides a fulfillment in a unique and personal way. Travel heals people in various ways ranging from emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. It balances their work-life and consequently improves their work performance.


Today’s culture and workforce are placing travel at the top of their list when choosing and staying with a job.  This is why companies need to take a look at their current wellness program and travel policy and make adjustments if they want to remain serious contenders in this competing world for valuable talent.


Travel is often something that is relegated to the back burner to be considered for the betterment of our health and well-being as it’s often thought as being a burden on time, money, and support from work.  Travel needs to be taken just as serious as a key means for improving wellness as any gym membership, yoga class, or healthy green juice.  
Travel wellness benefits aren’t based on general or anecdotal evidence but rather scientific studies stretching over the past several decades and companies are missing out on the opportunity to tap into them.

What Employees Look for in a Job Today:

Over the past decade, today’s culture and workforce has shifted. People prioritize wellness, their passions and personal life, and their core values. Travel is something that people turn to address each of these.  People view travel as a key source of happiness, health, and wellness.  Having time to explore new places, meet new people, step out of your comfort zone, and shake up your daily routine is important for people. Travel is embedded into many people’s core values with culture, humanity, and authenticity. Therefore, employees seek companies that align with their values, including travel.

According to a 2017 study by MetLife, nine out of 10 people would choose a company with similar values over a job that pays more and are willing to take a pretty big pay cut (an average of 21%) to make sure those values align with their own.  People want to be treated as human beings who have their own passions, goals, health issues, stresses, problems, families, and life in and outside of the workplace.

Employees seek more work flexibility and freedom. They want a supportive company culture that encourages their desire to travel more. Paid vacation is the second-most important benefit to employees after health care, ahead of retirement plans, flexible work options, bonuses, and sick leave, according to the U.S Travel Organization.  Research also found that employees prefer more paid vacation days compared to a 10% pay raise or any other benefits, says the Wisconsin Medical Journal.

People want the opportunity for upward growth and a feeling that they have a future in the company.  A positive work environment and a sense of community matters greatly. People look for opportunities to give back and volunteer as well as diverse and stimulating experiences. All which travel can provide.

People seek purpose and meaning in their job.  Thanks to the internet and social media, it’s easier now more than ever to find or create a dream job from anywhere in the world as long as you have the internet and a computer. This poses as a major problem for companies, whether they realize it now or not.
Problems in Today’s Workplace

Despite the rise in corporate wellness programs, companies continue to struggle with turnover, burnout, absenteeism, tardiness, poor company culture, and difficulty attracting and retaining valuable talent.

Burnout

Valued at $48 billion, the workplace wellness market remains small in comparison to the massive economic burden and productivity losses associated with an unwell workforce and widespread worker disengagement, according to the Global Wellness Institute.  With this epidemic continuing to rise, companies need to start thinking outside of the typical wellness box of diet and fitness for their wellness programs and more into the importance of travel.

Arianna Huffington with Thrive Global has a mission to combat workplace burnout. Some of the signs of burnout that she shares include disengagement, chronic illness, the inability to concentrate, poor attitude, making careless mistakes, closed off and unhappy, feeling undervalued, focusing more on side hustle jobs, unmotivated, lack of productivity, low quality work results, stressed out, and no desire to return to work the next day.  The Harvard Business Review states that “job burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year” and the American Institute of Stress stated in 2018 that “work-related stress cost businesses $300 billion a year”.
Vacation is by no means a cure for burnout but traveling can definitely prevent, improve, or help manage specific symptoms and consequences of burnout on individuals and the workplace.

Not Using Vacation Days

A big problem in the workplace is the fact that employees are not using all or most of their paid vacation days or travel opportunities. This isn’t from a lack of wanting to but rather a slew of reasons including lack of company and management support and encouragement, the fear of being replaced or fired, the fear of their dedication to their job being questioned, the stress of having to stay connected and work while on vacation, getting burnout out from constant business travel, not planning or requesting a trip far enough in advance and it being rejected, overwhelming booking management tools, lack of confidence to travel, financial stress, safety concerns, health issues, heavy workload, and let’s face it, everyone isn’t a travel expert so they are intimidated and overwhelmed by the entire process.

Millions of Americans are actually giving their vacation days back to their employer. In 2018, “52% of Americans didn’t take all their vacation days”, states the U.S Travel Association’s Project Time Off and in 2017, “Americans gave up 705 million unused vacation days and 222 million of those days cannot be rolled over or exchanged for money”.  Of these days, Americans forfeited 212 million days, which is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. That means employees effectively donated an individual average of $561 in work time to their employer in 2017.  ( U.S Travel Association)

Consequently, not using your vacation days properly or not using them at all can negatively affect your health and well-being.

Mental and Physiological Health Benefits:

Improved Brain Health and Boosts Cognitive Ability

Mental activity and cognitive stimulation can be achieved through various activities associated with travel. Travel expands your mind, introduces you to new people, adapts you to new situations, teaches you new skills, exercises your thinking process, exposes you to new foods, and help you become more globally and culturally aware.  “Travel is good medicine.  Because it challenges the brain with new and different experiences and environments, it is an important behavior that promotes brain health and builds brain resilience across the lifespan” says Dr. Paul D. Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist. New experiences increase cognitive flexibility and keeps the mind sharp. “Recent studies show that the beach is one of the best places to alleviate stress and heal your brain” says Inc.com.

Strengthened Emotional Equilibrium

Travel builds an emotional preparedness to be receptive of others by deepening compassion and empathy and exposing you to cultures and places that are distant from yours.

Lowers Stress and Anxiety Levels

Depression and anxiety have a significant economic impact; the estimated cost to the global economy is $1 trillion per year in lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization. Reports also suggest that stress results annually in as much as $300 billion in lost productivity, almost $200 billion in stress-related-illness expense, and one million workers being absent every day. Luckily, the benefits of travel are almost immediate. After only a day or two, 89% of respondents saw a significant drop in stress, according to a study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies and the U.S Travel Association. Resilience, cultivating gratitude, generosity, breathing techniques like meditation, slow-paced activities such as hikes in nature are all things that are believed to lower stress and are all things that travel brings. People also commonly bring home life issues to work with them such as strained marriages or relationships, PTSD, grieving, traumatic life events, and more). Mindful travel can help relieve stress and deal with those issues.

Decreased Depression

“Depression was ‘the principal source of workplace disability’” states Bill Wilkerson, the chairman for Target Depression in the Workplace.  Depression is greatly misunderstood but leading a healthy and more well-balanced lifestyle can definitely help with controlling it.  Traveling can help you take a breather and focus on yourself, your emotions, and realign with your inner self. “Women who took vacations were much less likely to suffer from depression and other mental health issues, so they subsequently enjoyed a higher quality of life” according to the Wisconsin Medical Journal. The Global Coalition on Aging shares that “women who do not take vacations are twice as likely to suffer from depression than women who do choose to go on a vacation”. Therapeutic landscapes like forests, mountains, and calming seasides may help to decrease the risk of psychosocial stress-related diseases. (US National Library of Medicine) Warm climates, sunlight, and Vitamin D have a positive effect on depression, especially seasonal-affective depression, since light can regulate melatonin and hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin. (International Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences)

Physical Health Benefits:

Boosted Immune System

The more you travel to new locations with new foods, climates, and environmental flora and fauna, the more exposed you are to different antigens, and your body can stock up antibodies against them, resulting in an improve immune system. (Well-beingSecrets.com) The Institute of Health Sciences states that “lowering stress also helps our gut which affects your immune system since about 80% of our immune system lives in our gut”.

Lowered Risk for Heart Problems

According to a long-term Framingham Heart study, “men and women who traveled annually were less likely to suffer a heart attack or develop heart disease”. This study also showed that there is an association between infrequent vacationing and increased incidence of heart problems or death due to coronary causes.

Increased Active Lifestyle

Many jobs don’t require much physical activity.  Travel encourages walking, hiking, swimming, skiing, and many other light physical activities. Being in the sunshine and warmer weather can also inspire physical activity.

Youthful Effect

Travel can protect resilience in aging. It keeps your mind healthy, your body active, and your spirit youthful while sparking vitality.

Healing Properties

Traveling detoxes you both emotionally and physically. It exposes you to healthy foods and vitamin-rich produce that you may not have available or affordable at home and it offers healing properties of places that you wouldn’t otherwise have access too.  For example, mineral-rich hot springs like in Turkey, Costa Rica, and Iceland and rejuvenating places where the Earth’s powers converge to heal and uplift like Stonehenge, the pyramids of Egypt, the vortexes in Arizona, and Mount Desert Island in Maine. Traveling introduces you to Western medicine experiences that many can’t usually afford such as massages, homeopathic remedies as well as Eastern remedies like Chinese medicines, ancient herbals and teas, yoga sessions in India and Bali, or meditation sessions in temples.

The Importance of Travel Experiences

“Experiences is the secret to sustained happiness” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University.

Long-lasting Effects

The effects of travel beginning in the planning phase and can last weeks after returning from a trip. “A four-day ‘long weekend’ vacation had positive effects on well-being, recovery, strain, and perceived stress for as long as 45 days”, according to a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Improves Self-Esteem and Confidence

Travel makes you more interesting and an authentic storyteller. It can increase one’s self-worth and promote self-care through self-healing and reflection.  It fosters personal identity, becomes a part of who you are, and helps establish values and beliefs while building character. Visiting new places, trying new things, challenging yourself, and gaining new perspectives can help you put the past in the past and look forward to the future.  

Increase Happiness and Mood

Travel increases our happy hormones dopamine and serotonin and keeps them flowing. Happiness is infectious and there are people around the world and cultures where you can feed off of their joy and energy.

Benefits on the Workplace

By providing employees with desirable and effective travel resources, companies can decrease burnout, lower turnover, boost profits, lower medical costs, and have a thriving happier and healthier workforce. A company culture that values holistic wellbeing like travel is desirable.

Enhances Work Performance and Productivity

Being able to travel promotes a thriving work ethic and motivates people to reach their work goals. It breaks you out of your regular habits which can aid in making big changes and tackling your goals. They want to make management happy if they are happy with their benefits.  People return to work and their daily lives refreshed and ready and better equipped to handle whatever comes their way. They feel more resilient, focused, and optimistic about work. Mental health is directly related to productivity so allowing employees to optimize on the mental health benefits of travel can improve their work performance.

Boosts Creativity and Innovation

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson once quoted “freed from the daily stresses of my working life, I find that I am more likely to have new insights into old problems and other flashes of inspiration”.  Scientists say travel makes you more creative. “Creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind” states theAtlantic.com.  Travel breaks creative stagnation and gets your creative juices flowing. International experiences and fresh cultural scenes can open the mind to creative thinking.

“Vacation is one of the few times, especially if someone has a full-time job, to be able to think deeply about a subject and create something new. Because many things are new on a vacation, it naturally encourages people to transcend their perceptual thinking ruts...which can be great fodder for new ideas” says Bryan Mattimore, the author of Idea Stormers: How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs.

Promotes Talent Development

From employees to management, it’s important for everyone to travel. When management takes their own vacation time, it enables them the chance to pass responsibilities down to others.  This builds trust and upward growth for employees. The U.S Travel Associations says “the employees spending more of their vacation time traveling, not just staying home, may also be more successful when they are in the office. More than half of mega-travelers reported receiving a promotion in the last two years compared to Americans who use some or little to none of their time to travel”.

Travel encourages interactions with other people and cultures, helps people gain new personal and professional skills, develops leadership skills, teaches new strengths to use in the workplace like language, increases social connection, helps people become better problem-solvers, builds responsibly, and become better communicators.

Improves Company Culture and Workplace Engagement

A negative work environment can lead to mental and physical health problems. Travel increases a positive workplace morale and inspires people to share their new experiences, stories, skills, and perspectives with their colleagues.  It opens people up to be more receptive and inclusive of other ideas, beliefs, and cultures. Travel sparks healthy workplace conversations and helps people return to work happier and in a better mood with a renewed energy.  According to a Gallup Report, “workers who spent 60-80% of their time away from the office had the highest rates of engagements”.

Improves Overall Company Success

Travel helps to rebuild trust between business and society, enhances management structures, builds capability to obtain knowledgeable insights from competing or potential markets which makes your niche that much more competitive worldwide, exposes employees to other systems and work strategies, and opens doors to possible teams and global networks and partnerships.

Benefits of Remote Work Opportunities

Not everyone can be productive sitting under fluorescent lights in an office. The desire for work flexibility like remote work options has significantly increased. According to a Telework Coalition report, “employee productivity increased by an average of 22% when remote working was allowed” and “businesses saved an average of $20,000 a year for each full-time employee who worked remotely”. The report also stated that remote working reduced employee turnover by 50%.

Of course management has its worries about offering remote work opportunities but “if you trust people and treat them as adults, they will repay you by working effectively and efficiently,” says Richard Branson.  He also says “choice can empower people to make good decisions and feel positive about their workplace, helping to keep great employees and attract new talent. If we all work smarter, we won’t have to work longer”.

What Companies Need to Do:

The key is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. People need to know how to do this and need more travel time to do so.  Companies need to adapt their travel policy and wellness programs to be supportive and encouraging of travel. They need to make employee travel benefits clear and accessible.  From increased paid time off, mindful business travel, volunteer abroad opportunities, sabbaticals, remote work opportunities, or other travel-related incentives and perks, there are many options for companies. It’s just a matter of companies taking action and implementing them.  Companies should consider hiring a travel expert, like a travel coach, to educate and empower employees and management on the wellness benefits of travel, how to travel effectively and confidently, how to take control over their travel planning and booking, managing travel finances, figuring out what travel incentives are best for them, and all other aspects that ensure that employees are optimizing on travel.
Does your corporate wellness program maximize on the wellness benefits of travel?