"Travel Friction" Creating Employee Turnover


The company AstraZeneca, headquartered in Copenhagen recently conducted some thought-provoking research. They noticed that there were negative effects of frequent travel on its employees' wellbeing. They sought to quantify the effects of this "travel friction" on the company's 25,000 most frequent travelers and whether there was a link to recruitment and retention.

The company's travel team hired the United States-based consultancy tClara. The goal was to detail the effects of various stressors, including "traveling during personal time, enduring long flights, and crossing multiple time zones, especially in economy class". Their early results suggest frequent travelers experience disproportionately more travel friction per trip than less frequent travelers do.

AstraZeneca wanted to find the most appropriate balance between too much and too little travel and consider the impact of travel on AstraZeneca's appeal to employees---in other words, whether work-related travel contributed or reduced the perception of the company as a "preferred employer".

To its credit, employee welfare is more than lip service for AstraZeneca. Making AstraZeneca "a great place to work" is one of its three key strategic objectives, along with "achieving scientific leadership, and returning to growth".

Motivated by the cost to replace talent within its company, AstraZeneca had perceived the effect to recruitment and retention of top talent as "an acute challenge", particularly in Australia. This study is one example of how the company is "making [Human Resource] issues a strategic priority for all senior executives".

Some of the company's solutions include suggesting that employees should travel on company, not personal time, starting meetings on Tuesdays to allow extra time for employees located farther away to arrive, and examining cabin policies to allow for greater comfort on long-haul flights.

To those responses we would add Joyce's solutions for short-haul trips: departing in time to arrive in the late afternoon to afford a relaxed evening and having the traveler start to function on the destination time zone before departure. Forward-thinking airlines and hotels will look at how they may affect these issues as well.

TClara's analysis is just another way that companies are using metrics to operate more efficiently. As employment markets tighten further, we may expect to see more research into other corporate policies and operational aspects that contribute to employee retention. 


From "The Herman Trend Alert," by Joyce Gioia, Strategic Business Futurist.


Joyce Gioia is a Strategic Business Futurist concentrating on workforce and workplace trends. Joyce is President and CEO of The Herman Group, a firm serving a wide range corporate, trade association and governmental clients on an international basis.

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