Business Travelers: Benefiting the Business while Risking Family Life?

p0138rs1International travel is a natural part of today’s borderless and interlinked business environment. As noted in my previous post on this topic, global business travel is accessible and, even more importantly, brings benefits to multinational companies. Yet, as usual, possible benefits come with possible risks.

Foremost, business travel is accompanied by travel stress. For example, research by HEC Paris and Carlson Wagonlit Travel of seven thousand business travelers indicated 33 possible stressors, ranging from lost baggage to jetlag. Specifically, the research indicated three major stress categories, which are lost time, unforeseen events, and routine breakers.

However, travel stress is not necessarily related only to the hassles of actual travel during the trip, but may have much larger causes and effects. In my previous post I mentioned that business travel affects both the business traveler and traveler’s family. Indeed, as highlighted in a recent Financial Times article, business travel may have quite negative effects on close relationships with family members. Writing based on her own clinical experience, psychotherapist Naomi Shragai points out that frequent work travelers may experience feelings of guilt and loneliness, while trying to deal with resentment, dissatisfaction and frustration of their partner and kids. The stories, brought up in the article, indicate that there are several facets to the problem.

First of all, it is about the difficulties of returning home from business travel. On one hand, there are happy feelings related to family reunion. Yet, these happy moments may not last long and may give in to all the pent-up feelings, which have accumulated during the separation period. For example, kids might have been hurt by the traveler’s absence during some important events, while the traveler’s spouse might feel abandoned with the home responsibilities. Naturally, time back at home can be meant for ‘making-up’ for the previous absence, let’s say by spending extra time with kids and giving the spouse a rest from household duties. Sounds fair, right? Fair, but quite unlikely. Similar to the notion that expats have less work-life balance abroad than at home, I would argue that international business traveler may also feel the decreased balance. When returning from business trips, travelers return to their work routines back at home, which does not really allow for any extra family time. Moreover, I believe that everyone with at least the slightest experience of business trips can agree that, while being away, the amount of TO DO’s back in one’s home office is just multiplying, resulting in an increased work load upon return (at least temporarily).

Secondly, what clearly came up in the FT article is that, although business travelers are aware of the possible problems, they are largely aggravating the situations themselves. Specifically, business travelers may be using such maladaptive coping strategies as problem avoidance. As mentioned in a couple of examples in the FT article, business travelers may opt for more trips than necessary to escape uncomfortable family situations, as well as avoid honest conversations with family members so as not to feel bad about themselves. Although avoidance of problems and uneasy conversations may work quite well in the short term, in the long run it only worsens the situation.

As for some suggestions to business travelers in these situations, potential distress of all the parties involved may be eased by keeping regularly in touch while away, preparing family members for the time of separation, and openly talking through the mutual feelings, expectations and experiences.

In addition, I believe that multinational companies can also do their share of addressing these problems. Although international business travelers may be beneficial for maintaining and growing company revenues, the long-term well-being of their employees should remain their top priority. As such, multinationals should look into what constitutes a healthy level of business travel, trying to replace some of it for instance by telecommuting.


4 thoughts on “Business Travelers: Benefiting the Business while Risking Family Life?

  1. its true the family really bears all the brunt of a successful business career especially when the business has expanded and has multiple offices in different countries or continents., but i think technologies for communication and working from home making use of such should cancel out this probblem as soon as companies find a way to make people productive when they work at home as much as they are productive working from an office

  2. My father worked for German based Varta batteries in 90’s while living in Miami for several years. I remember taking him to the MIA I’ntl to the Lufthansa drop-off. Over the course of 6 years, I dropped him off at virtually the same location 150+ times. My dad has done extremely well financially but I can say without fear that his energy took a hit for the worst. Once an avid baseball player, my father couldn’t find the extra energy he would need to pitch for an entire game anymore and decided to stop playing altogether. Learning about how my father was drained from inter-continental travels affected my professional life. I made sure that my office is no more than a 20 minute commute from home and that travelling via plane was something that only happend on a family vacation.

  3. Why not the companies consider to allow and endorse their sellers to travel with their family? It would seem more expensive, but the benefits of the worker living a more tranquil life would impact on better business activities, higher earnings for them and the company, and employees who last longer working for them.

  4. It is troublesome to be a travelling seller. You must be very confident on your mate because sometimes you are not at home for months, and it could cause troubles for your matrimony. You have not much time to spare with your children, they know better their mother than you, you are not always present when their important moments happen, like school events, birthdays and so. It is a kind of job for people who enjoy being alone, and if you’re not that kind of person, then you’ll not enjoy your work.

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