Before the Covid pandemic, this highly mobile group of employees routinely worked worldwide to deliver growth. They are among the first to return to business travel and international assignments. The demands on these elite performers as they travel the globe cannot be underestimated.
Frequent travellers face a growing array of risks: from minor disruptions like travel delays to major threats such as conflict, natural disaster, and public disorder. Our research shows that around half of most frequent travellers regularly experience all of these disruptions.
Given the international nature of their role, the company’s duty of care to provide travel security, travel health preparedness and care is paramount. Sixty-three per cent of the 500 international business travellers whom we surveyed feel that their company is poorly prepared for inevitable disruption.
Family matters to internationally deployed workers
International deployees who often travel with their immediate families face additional challenges of ensuring that their families settle safely into a culturally different environment, with different education and healthcare systems. Evidence suggests that when families of international deployees are unsettled, this affects the performance of international workers more than professional or workplace concerns.
Five hundred international workers told us that failings in the travel preparation and care they receive from their company are limiting their ability to deliver: 56 per cent say lack of support adversely affects their international projects; 51 per cent say they are ready to leave if support doesn’t improve; only a quarter (28 per cent) say they’re able to operate at peak effectiveness while away on business.
Around 50 per cent of companies provide good policies, medical care, and technical support. This is estimated to improve productivity on self-assessment of their international workers by 18 per cent (that is almost one working day per week for each traveller). Yet businesses are routinely failing to give them the care they need to succeed – to the detriment of their performance and their firms’ growth prospects.
Business travel insurance vs IPMI
Current business models have been designed to provide travel and security support for international business travellers. Healthcare is covered by business health travel insurance.
Further separation occurs as travel arrangements, security considerations are traditionally taken care of in house; occupational health services are designed to stand alone and often outsourced and therefore disconnected from other travel preparation. It is therefore uncommon for the travel or security departments working together to ensure that travel arrangements meet the healthcare needs of the international worker.
This gap in service design can lead to spiralling medical and health insurance costs, reputational damage, and loss of productivity. The lack of travel health and location knowledge prevents effective remote support and can delay effective recognition in recurrent health issues in a particular population.
The company needs to consider that when they deploy staff to foreign locations that this poses additional challenges related to the destination: navigating a different healthcare system from the home country can be very challenging, and therefore health concerns often present late to the medical profession and with more serious illnesses. Lack of preparation may lead to interruption of long-term medical treatment and to avoidable acute medical complications as a consequence.
For example, a deployee is found to be on a prescription medication that is not permitted in the destination country. This affects mainly people taking antidepressants and painkillers, which are the 9th (50 million) and 11th (46 million) most frequently prescribed medications in the US. Other travellers may be on a treatment plan that cannot be continued due to availability of medications and treatment monitoring devices. This may occur in people with diabetes, a disease that affects 537 million adults and cause 6.7 million deaths in 2021.
Travel risk management as a holistic exercise
Fortunately, several solutions are available to the company and its business travellers and international employees. It is vital for the company to approach travel management holistically, including health and safety, human resources, and occupational health departments for the benefit of the international worker. This approach can facilitate internal assessment of the needs of the traveller served by company functions, such as wellbeing and employee benefit programmes, as well as regular occupational health check-ups, and travel preparation programmes.
Tailored pretravel health risk assessments provide the basis for subsequent health advice. For the business traveller, this is a generic health risk assessment, focussing on increased risk of diseases associated with travel, for example, diabetic complication and deep vein thrombosis, the impact of a pre-existing mental health condition, such as depressive or anxiety disorders (which have increased by 25 per cent during the pandemic and now account for one third of all new physician consultations in first world healthcare).
When assessing the health needs of longer-term international workers and their families, thorough health risk assessments are recommended, compared to the student or voluntary services traveller, where mental and sexual health form a prominent part of the pre-travel health assessment.
Assessments provide trends, which result in improved interventions
Once pre-travel health assessments are completed, individual and group health trends can be identified, and effective interventions include training on prevention of infectious diseases (for example vaccination, malaria and sexually transmitted diseases prevention programmes) and psychological resilience training (for example Mental Health First Aid training).
Leading insurance providers are also taking an interest in more granular health information of their corporate policy holders. Their previous assumptions that health and wellbeing measures available to full time employees provides a degree of reassurance that business travellers are in good health, are being re-examined.
It is therefore timely for corporations and the company to take this opportunity to create an internal culture that puts health and wellbeing at the heart of productivity.