International business travellers more likely to engage in risky behaviour


A ground breaking study of international business travellers found many reported being more engaged with their jobs, but many are also more likely to engage in risky behaviours while away


The Keeping International Business Travellers Happy, Healthy & Engaged at Home and Away whitepaper drafted by the International SOS Foundation, Kingston University and Affinity Health at Work also uncovers the organisational, social and individual factors that support and hinder the psychological health of international business travellers (IBTs).

“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,” notes International SOS Foundation Director Karl Boschmann, who commissioned the study.

“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.”

The paper provides practical support for employers and employees as well as valuable insights by starting to look into the causes as well as the impacts on business travellers, says Dr Rachel Lewis, Associate Professor in Occupational Psychology and Programme Director for the MSc and Professional Doctorate Programme in Occupational and Business Psychology, at Kingston Business School.

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

While 67% of respondents to the study reported increased engagement in their jobs due to business travel, over a third (34%) 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% are 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.

“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,’ says International SOS Senior Vice President and Regional Medical Director Professor Robert Quigley MD.

This can play a critical role in helping international business travellers be better protected themselves and keep business aims on track.”

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%).

“The combination of the physical demands and restrictions of international business travel, including the ability to eat moderately as well as keep a regular exercise routine, can have a major impact,” Lewis adds.

“Many people rely on this kind of activity to keep a balance both physically and psychologically, 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 leisure time
  • 59% provide business class flights on long haul
  • 34% Employee Assistance Plan
  • 25% wellness programme
  • 21% mental health support

Organisations can be doing a lot more to support and protect their business travellers, Quigley maintains.

“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.”

Support materials

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

Keeping International Business Travellers Happy, Healthy & Engaged at Home and Away and supporting materials can be found here.