As business travel gradually restarts over the next few months, even the most seasoned business travellers may experience anxiety. As Emma-Louise Robertson outlines, occupational health will be well-placed to provide support and reassurance.
As international travel gradually resumes over the coming months, business travellers, who perhaps have barely left the house for 18 months, may be concerned about catching Covid-19 during their travels, as well as the worry and concern about getting home, the threat of new variants, and the fear and inconvenience of possibly having to experience hotel quarantine.
International travel will be challenging for at least the rest of the year, with, for example, the potential for sudden border closures, new quarantine measures and testing requirements or new rules or regulations regarding social contact and interaction, all contributing towards an unsettling and changeable picture.
Also, let’s not forget more traditional stress points for travellers such as airport security, border customs and passport control, which are more complex and involved now than before the pandemic.
Understanding and managing anxiety
Understanding and managing anxiety is important for all organisations with travelling populations, and this is something where occupational health practitioners can provide important leadership, guidance, support and reassurance.
People suffering from anxiety may notice physical symptoms, like nervousness or restlessness, feelings of panic or being ‘on edge’, rapid breathing and pulse, difficulty focusing and increased sweating.
The key to reducing anxiety while travelling is spending time preparing for all eventualities. Think of what could trigger the anxiety or be causing nervousness about an upcoming journey, and write down a plan before departure to better manage any triggers.
For example, if an employee has to change planes or is visiting more than one destination, ensure there is scope to break the journey down and organise as much in advance as possible, including ground transfers. It might be worth considering whether the manager would agree to a meet-and-greet option with a transfer at the final location.
Robust risk travel management strategy
Having a robust risk travel management strategy in place is essential. Pre-travel briefings, including what has changed since Covid-19, should deliver practical and insightful information to ensure that a traveller feels reassured during every stage of the trip.
This should cover things like the environment employees are heading to as well as the logistics in place to get them from A to B.
Then, while they’re away, organisations should be conducting additional ‘check-ins’ to ensure they are properly supported and to simply check that they are okay. This allows information on the latest advice for a destination to be passed on and additional support provided.
Whilst it is difficult to plan exactly for changing circumstances, organisations should keep a close eye on new Covid-19 variants and countries’ vaccine programmes to help with contingency planning.
It is crucial that employers recognise the impact that the pandemic has had on a lot of people and that even staff who previously were experienced travellers may now need support; they should also use the expertise and advice of occupational health to help them navigate this challenging new environment.
More widely, access to support such as an employee assistance programme or mental health first aid may also be valuable in tackling anxieties and giving employees about to travel overseas a place, and a way, to talk about any fear and concerns. Occupational health itself can of course be a good port of call for this as well.
Staff need to know that their mental health is taken seriously, and that their employers will support them at this time.