Uncovered: The Behavioural and Psychological Effects of International Business Travel

05 November 2018 ,  —


International SOS Foundation, Kingston Business School and Affinity Health at Work Uncover the Behavioural and Psychological Effects of International Business Travel on the Global Business Traveller

First of its kind study uncovers:

67% reported being more engaged with their jobs due to business travel, but…..

 34% of international business travellers (IBTs) are more likely to engage in a number of risky behaviours while away

and 31% experience emotional exhaustion, a core feature of burnout, on a weekly basis


The International SOS Foundation has teamed up with Kingston University and Affinity Health at Work, to reveal insights into the habits, health and psychological implications of international business travel (IBT) on the traveller. As employee mental health and its impact on business outcomes is increasingly scrutinised, this ground breaking research uncovers the rise in risky behaviours, burn out, and exhaustion of the IBT. This is alongside their experience of a sense of adventure, freedom and heightened engagement. The whitepaper ‘Keeping International Business Travellers Happy, Healthy & Engaged at Home and Away’ also starts to uncover the organisational, social and individual factors that support and hinder the psychological health of IBTs.  


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Kai Boschmann, Director, International SOS Foundation, who commissioned the study, comments, “The business opportunities associated with international travel are undisputed, but research suggests that frequent travellers make three times as many claims for psychological treatment compared to those who don’t travel on business regularly .  To foster business productivity and fulfil Duty of Care in a sustained way, organisations need to also understand how they can protect the mental health and physical wellbeing of their employees while travelling.” 


Dr Rachel Lewis CPsychol, Associate Professor in Occupational Psychology, Kingston Business School and Director, Affinity Health at Work, added, “A large proportion of the international business travellers we interviewed reported suffering from stress and anxiety while away. By starting to look into the causes of this, and exploring how it can be exacerbated by things such as organisational culture, the paper provides valuable insights and practical support for employers and employees. Awareness is the first step in tackling these issues that are, inevitably, going to become more prevalent as the global workforce increasingly travels internationally in search of business opportunity and success.”


Risky Behaviours Uncovered
While 67% of respondents to the study reported increased engagement in their jobs due to business travel, over a third (34%) of international business travellers (IBTs) are more likely to engage in a number of risky behaviours when travelling, compared to their behaviour at home, and only 15% are more concerned about their safety while they’re away.  This trend is particularly evident among the younger, less experienced employees.  The study shows that this may be the result of lowered inhibitions; the majority (75%) agree that they see business travel as an opportunity for adventure and exploration, and, for 59%, it’s an opportunity to enjoy freedom from home life. 

46% admit to consuming more alcohol when away on business
35% are more likely to visit bars and nightclubs
35% more likely to eat in unhygienic places 
33% will travel to areas they don’t know are safe
32% are more likely to travel in vehicles without adequate protection
Nearly one in ten travellers (9%) also reported that they would be more likely to start a sexual relationship with a new sexual partner(s)
2% are more likely to have unprotected sex and 2% are more likely to use drugs than they are at home

Professor Robert Quigley MD, Senior Vice President and Regional Medical Director at International SOS commented: “It is clear that organisations must bridge a risk awareness gap by educating travelling staff about the potential health and safety risks they face when away from home, before it has an impact. This can play a critical role in helping international business travellers be better protected themselves and keep business aims on track.” 

Mental & Physical Health 
The report also uncovers the impact on mental health and physical wellbeing, including an increase in stress levels and emotional exhaustion.1% their mood suffers when on business 
45% experience an increase in stress levels while on a business trip
41% of respondents report that their mood suffers when on business trips
Nearly 1/3 (31%) experience emotional exhaustion, a core feature of burnout, on a weekly basis (particularly prevalent in IBTs with children voiced higher levels of emotional exhaustion)
1/4 of respondents report their mental health issues are more prevalent (including heightened depression, 27%, stress, 24% and anxiety, 23%)

Mental health issues are consolidated with physical health demands and issues, including working more hours (78%), are less likely to have a balanced diet (76%), less likely to exercise (76%), and suffer from reduced quality sleep (73%).

Dr Rachel Lewis continued, “The combination of the physical demands and restrictions of international business travel can have a major impact on employees’ physical and psychological health. The disruption of being away from home can affect eating patterns as well as opportunities to keep up a regular exercise routine.  Many people rely on this kind of activity to keep a healthy balance both physically and mentally, whether they are at home or away.  This may be why only 40% of international business travellers reported a sufficient work/life balance.”


Organisational support
While many organisations are providing for the logistics of business travel adequately, when it comes to health and wellbeing, it’s a different matter:

77% provide or enable booking /arrangement of travel logistics 
72% choose quality hotel accommodation 
65% allow bleisure time  
59% provide business class flights on long haul 
34% Employee Assistance Plan
25% wellness programme
21% mental health support

Professor Robert Quigley MD, commented “Organisations can be doing a lot more to support and protect their business travellers. The logistics of business travel are a well-trodden path, but the mental wellbeing of employees who travel regularly is being overlooked, and could be having a major impact on both personnel and the health of a business.  Appropriate support and advice, encompassing behavioural, physical and psychological health, can be the difference between a successful business trip and a costly failed one.”


Accompanying the white paper are materials to support organisations, managers and international business travellers including:
Planning and Coping Tool
Action Planning Tool
Guidance for Organisations
Guidance for Managers
Guidance for IBTs
Checklist for Organisations
Checklist for Managers
Checklist for IBTs

The new study ‘Keeping International Business Travellers Happy, Healthy & Engaged at Home and Away’ and supporting materials, can be accessed here.



About the research:

 The research for the ‘Keeping International Business Travellers Happy & Healthy at Home and Away’ white paper combines a survey of 200 international business travellers with in depth interviews of industry experts and extensive desk research.  The resultant report utilised all the findings to draw conclusions and provide recommendations and supporting documentation for organisations and international business travellers.


About International SOS Foundation

Established in 2011, the International SOS Foundation ― Ambassadors for Duty of Care www.internationalsosfoundation.org  – has the goal of improving the safety, security, health and welfare of people working abroad or on remote assignments through the study, understanding and mitigation of potential risks. The escalation of globalisation has enabled more individuals to work across borders and in unfamiliar environments; exposure to risks which can impact personal health, security and safety increases along with travel.

The Foundation is a registered charity and was started with a grant from International SOS. It is a fully independent, non-profit organisation. For more information on Duty of Care and the International SOS Foundation, please visit http://www.internationalsosfoundation.org/ 


About Kingston Business School:
With more than 17,000 students, Kingston University offers an extensive range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes both in the United Kingdom and overseas. The University’s Kingston Business School is a long-established and leading provider of business education. It has been awarded prestigious international accreditation by the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) – earned by just five per cent of the world’s business schools. With staff who are active in professional practice and engaged in research at the cutting edge of their fields, students benefit from the latest thinking and developments in business, finance, marketing and advertising. Courses are accredited by professional bodies including the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), and the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

About Affinity Health at Work:

Affinity Health at Work is an occupational health psychology consultancy and research group.  The focus of the group is on workplace health and wellbeing, and particularly the role of leadership and people management in these areas.  For more information, go to http://www.affinityhealthatwork.co.uk/home