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Travel managers are being urged to consider the mental health of their employees — despite the fact they aren’t traveling.
Most corporate programs incorporate mental health as part of the travel wellbeing process, but now it’s top of mind as governments step up lockdowns, and growing numbers of people place themselves in self-isolation.
Globally, coronavirus is already compounding “Permanxiety” — the near-constant state of anxiety travelers experience due to geopolitical events, climate change and other local issues that Skift has reported on extensively over the years.
Long-term confinement will now begin to take its toll, and those employees who are tasked with being the first back on planes to recently opened countries may be wary.
“I won’t be in a rush to travel immediately when the ban is finally lifted. I won’t feel confident until a vaccine has been made available,” said frequent traveler Carolyn Pearson, who runs risk consultancy Maiden Voyage. “The lockdown has given us security and control over our environments but we have no such control over the cleanliness of hotels, transport hubs and aircraft. The prospect of being in a foreign ICU fills me with dread, which is sad given that the opportunity to travel has always contributed to my mental wellbeing.”
One association is tackling the issue by urging travel managers to keep regular contact with staff, and prepare for the new post-COVID 19 environment.
“Right now, travel managers need to do their homework and analyze travel behaviors and company goals,” Odete Pimenta da Silva, managing director of the Netherlands Association for Travel Management, told Skift. “They will have to work together with management, what if the employee’s family is against business travel, and how to bring the message forward that the company will take care of their employees when they go on a business trip again.”
The association is running a dedicated virtual event on mental health Wednesday, and for the first time is opening it up to non-members.
In many organizations, high-frequency travelers are the ones bringing in the revenue, according to one consultant. “Companies need to protect these individuals and make sure they’re maintaining a mental wellbeing,” said Matthew Holman of Simpila — a consultancy that is helping run Wednesday’s event.
“If we push them back out the door the day the green lights hit, it’s going to be brutal. They might think no one was really there for them when I was isolating, now they’re telling me to just go back and do the thing that I was doing before.”
Organizations will likely refocus on duty of care in the future, with traveller safety, security and tracking high on the agenda once travel resumes. Holman told Skift travel managers need to put mechanisms in place to check in on staff before they are booked back on to flights.
“ISOS and other risk companies are talking more about mental health than ever before. This is a virus that is creating serious mental health problems. Anxiety is going up, as well as depression for those people self-isolating who live alone,” he added.
Pimenta da Silva expects governments worldwide to most likely encourage a rapid return to business travel before leisure travel. “The minute the government says it’s OK to go on a business trip again, you have to have your strategy up and running. It’s no time to be sitting back,” she said.