All work and no play makes your employees exhausted – and explains the rise in mixing business travel with pleasure.
Despite organisations becoming better equipped to manage and attend virtual and hybrid meetings, the use of video-conferencing, virtual technology, social media and webcasting does not appear to be increasing. Only a quarter of respondents to an American Express Global Business Travel 2016 survey reported using such technology in more than 10 per cent of their meetings, with face-to-face remaining the preferred way to do business.
So, despite the costs, trips overseas for senior executives continue to be part and parcel of a company’s annual budget. But given how much these international jaunts eat into people’s private lives, there is a growing trend towards ‘b-leisure’ (business leisure), combining work and downtime with or without family. For much of the post-war period, Australian corporations have maintained a strict demarcation between business and leisure travel – but there is growing evidence that this line is now blurring.
Take a break
“Ten years ago letting your staff stay on after a business commitment to attend a sporting event or a wellness program would have been frowned upon,” says Peter Hook, one of Australia’s most experienced travel marketeers. “But these days companies not only accept that their staff may tack a family holiday onto, say, the end of a business conference, but actually encourage them to do it.”
The rise of b-leisure is part of a general acceptance within the business world that taking regular holidays not only improves staff morale, but can also boost company profits. Recent international studies suggest that employees who take regular vacations return to work with greater motivation, better mental focus and improved long-term health outcomes; American researchers say that holidays can reduce the risk of diabetes, hypertension, colds and even heart disease.
Time to recharge
Anneliese Urquhart, small business director at the online accounting firm Xero, says that Australia holds the world record for the highest percentage of unused annual leave (111 million days) and believes it is time that the nation relaxed its “work hard, play hard” philosophy.
“We encourage all Aussies to take some time out for themselves – not only to celebrate the work achievements of the past year, but to also set new goals for the new year ahead,” she says.
A new survey commissioned by Xero reveals that the majority of small to medium business owners in Australia believe in taking regular holidays avoids staff burnout, maintains a good work-life balance and offers a chance to celebrate past achievements – even if they don’t act on that conviction.
However, in line with the global rise of b-leisure, the research points to improvements, showing that Australian SME business owners are taking many shorter breaks during the year – in addition to an annual two-week holiday. Peter Hook believes that the origins of b-leisure can be traced back to the 2007-08 global financial crisis and increased public debate about the pressures faced by corporate executives – and the need for more down time. “Accor Hotels picked up on this trend back in 2013 when they launched the Pullman hotel and resort brand in Australia,” he says. “The Pullman brand was specifically targeted at the tech-savvy traveller for whom business and leisure travel were often seamlessly connected.”
It seems that an increasing number of Australian companies recognise the value to their staff of taking regular holidays. In their 2016 Meet the Modern Business Traveller report, American Express Global Business Travel and the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) Global show that managers now factor in work-life balance and wellness to determine the success of their business traveller initiatives.
(Decided to give your employees some b-leisure but you’re worried about your duty of care? Read our article.)
Driven by youth
The American Express Global Business Travel/ACTE report suggests the trend towards b-leisure is being driven by younger business travellers who have a greater interest in the shared economy and more commonly use traveller-supported apps. Greeley Koch, executive director of the ACTE, says that younger business executives seem more attuned to the physical and mental benefits of taking a vacation, even when combined with a business trip or a conference.
“Younger business travellers are more conscious of what they eat, how they exercise, and the amount and quality of the sleep they get,” says Koch.
“They know that all of these factors are the basis of wellness, and they are less willing to abandon their health and fitness agendas when travelling. They also seem more conscious that wellness of body and spirit provides advantages when negotiating sales contracts for their companies.”
All of these factors are leading to a rise in travellers wanting to extend their business trips to include either some leisure days at the end, or leisure experiences woven throughout a business trip.
The report found that:
- 42 per cent of travel managers report an increase in travellers enquiring about the option of combining leisure with business travel;
- 48 per cent have received an increase in travellers voicing work-life concerns;
- 28 per cent have received an increase in travellers enquiring about taking a family member on trips;
The enthusiasm for b-leisure is particularly evident among corporate travellers aged 20-30. Here, 70 per cent want to combine business and leisure trips and 46 per cent would like to take a family member along on their next trip. None of these findings surprise Penny Spencer, founder of Spencer Travel and one of Australia’s most respected corporate travel agents – although she disputes the finding that b-leisure is being driven by millennial/Gen Y travellers.
“No, I don’t think that’s the case at all,” she says. “B-leisure is popular with people of all ages – in fact I would say most demand is coming more from the older generation who have teenage kids.”
While the rise of b-leisure is generally viewed as a positive development, the report says that many corporations have been slow to adapt to this new environment. For example, only one in 10 corporations surveyed offers insurance to staff who want to combine work and leisure. There are also policy gaps in the use of sharing accommodation and transport.
“While a significant number have modified [their] policy to help travellers integrate work and personal life, a large opposing number declare they have no plans to make changes,” the report says.
This article originally appeared in the August edition of HRM magazine.