Why 2022 could be a bumper year for company-sponsored working holidays that fend off pandemic-induced exhaustion.
Future of Work
Editor’s Note: Skift Future of Work briefing is available exclusively every Friday.
As organizations start to embrace distributed work and virtual meetings, the corporate travel and meetings sectors are preparing for change. How will travel managers respond to new patterns of employee mobility? What role will hotels play in catering to distributed workforces and distributed meetings? Can destinations, and airlines, capitalize on the anticipated boom in digital nomads? Does the coming future of work increase or decrease the travel spend?
Many employees have been left frazzled after two years of challenging conditions, often involving isolation and stress as they juggle personal and professional lives working from home due to coronavirus lockdowns, despite the positive spin that’s put on a more remote future.
But there could be some respite as accommodation providers pitch vacations to companies that help staff recuperate after suffering burnout, or as a means to recharge if signs of exhaustion start showing. But will companies accept liability if they’ve pushed staff too hard and offer so-called burnout breaks as an employee benefit?
One New Jersey-based entrepreneur thinks they will, and is launching a network of properties in the south of France this summer, tapping into the healing powers of nature, and of course fine food and wine.
Franco-American Serge Lescouarnec is well-qualified for the venture — running a home concierge business for 10 years for busy executives, he’s been able to identify the signs of burnout first-hand among clients. He also suffered himself. “I burned out,” he said. “I had a couple of episodes where my brain was kind of fried and I needed to rest for a week. I could feel it, the body’s there but the brain is not there.”
Lescouarnec has now begun work on Mediterranean Work & Play and is contracting different “gites” and rental homes near towns like Perpignan and Carcassonne. The properties will be large enough so guests can invite friends or family, while he will curate a list of activities, including hiking and wine tours. “As part of that burnout prevention I also want to focus on wellness. There are a lot of places that have hot springs, or offer massages,” he added.
Stays from 30 to 90 days will be on offer, and guests can check in across different properties in the network. Lescouarnec is currently targeting companies in New York, where he hopes the healing properties of the Mediterranean lifestyle could sway overworked executives.
“In the same way companies offer health benefits, I don’t think they want to wait until people collapse onto their computer and have a nervous breakdown,” he said. “Companies will offer these types of services, and buy themselves a lot of goodwill. If they give someone a month to tend to themselves, I’m sure those people are going to be ready to give back.”
Burnout Is Real
Covid-19 has led to significant strain on mental wellness, according to mental wellbeing platform Modern Health. In a June 2020 survey it found 47 percent of respondents had felt more stress and anxiety during Covid-19 than at any other time in their life. Over half (53 percent) worried their life would “never go back to normal” and 34 percent said they felt the pandemic would have a negative impact on their career and income.
But rather than shunning responsibility for the mental health of staff, corporations are taking more measures. Modern Health told Skift that more companies were now recognizing burnout, and were keen to be seen to proactively provide resources to prevent it due to the “Great Resignation” and competition for talent.
In another Modern Health report, Shifting Tides: A Report on the Changing Attitudes About Mental Health Care and the Workplace, published in Sept. 2021, it found 87 percent of employees wanted their employer to care about their mental health, but only 66 percent actually felt supported. And 64 percent of manager and non-manager employees ranked a flexible and supportive culture over a higher salary — and were prepared to change jobs to find it.
Meanwhile, 52 percent of C-level respondents said they planned to help managers identify signs and symptoms of burnout, stress, or other mental health needs within the next two years. Offering burnout breaks could become a key differentiator when keeping and finding talent, when the next generation of employees enters the workplace expecting mental health support.
A new project in Zadar, Croatia, called Digital Nomad Valley, has just welcomed its first cohort of remote workers and sees clear benefits to offering a change of scenery. Activities include hiking, swimming and skill sharing events. “This happens on an almost daily basis, which is something that a standard office can’t compete with, and boosts the moral of employees,” said founder Mario Mrksa.
“The valley is suited perfectly for remote workers that are at risk of a burnout, as we are offering wellness facilities and a remote work community,” said founder Mario Mrksa. “People have a choice when to work alone, when to work alongside others in co-working space, when to relax and when to participate in activities organized by the community manager.”
Although originally focused on individuals, Mrksa is developing packages for companies to offer employees.
European apartment provider Zoku has also been working with human resource specialists to launch three new programs aimed at companies, and plans to integrate a burnout recovery program by working with external experts. “Subjects that will be covered are finding balance in your life, learning to take real real breaks, setting boundaries, connecting to other people, nourishing your creativity and finding value in what you do,” said Hans Meyer, co-founder and managing director at Zoku.
At the end of last year it published a whitepaper to help organizations discover how to keep their individual talent and teams engaged, aligned and productive in the era of hybrid work.
“Remote work can definitely lead to employee burnout given we are always ‘in the office’ now,” added Steve Black, co-founder and chief strategy officer at talent mobility platform Topia. “A working vacation can be a great way to recharge the batteries and get some time off, but also get some work done with new scenery.”
Sure, the metaverse is great. But have you tried email?
Despite the technological advancements over the past few years, including virtual reality and a bewildering array of new travel apps, business travelers still prefer good old fashioned email when it comes to communication.
That’s according to a new survey commissioned by the Global Business Travel Association, which delved into employee traveler communication preferences in a fast-changing world.
Four in five (81 percent) put email as one of the top five communication methods they want their company to use (out of 13 tested), which is by far higher than the share for any other method. This is based on a poll of 508 business travelers in the U.S.
Platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams were also not being widely used. Only one-third (32 percent) of respondents said their company used an internal messaging or collaboration platform to communicate about travel.
“Despite the availability of new communication channels and platforms, business travelers still prefer tried and true communication channels,” the report said.
And about one-third of respondents (36 percent) said their company communicates about travel via text messaging and nearly one-quarter (21 percent) said it communicates via push notifications through a mobile app. However, 51 percent said their company intranet or employee portal was one of their top five preferred communication methods.
“The research shows that companies may be doing a good job managing (travel) policies, but there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to making sure their employees understand the latest changes,” said Alison Galik, CEO of business dining solution Dinova, which carried out the poll for the travel association. “We believe there is a big opportunity to address this by offering more information about local Covid requirements and through leveraging mobile channels.”
The full findings of the “Travel Program Communication During Covid-19: What Business Travelers Want to Know and How They Want to Hear” report are available to association members only. The poll was conducted from Aug. 20 to Sept. 8, 2021.
10-Second Corporate Travel Catch-Up
U.S. Hotel Bookings Continue to Lead Over Europe
Hotel bookings in the U.S. are showing a particularly strong recovery, reaching 91 percent of pre-pandemic volumes in December 2021, compared with the same month in 2019. In January 2021, volumes were at 22 percent of 2019 transactions, according to hotel technology solution provider HotelHub, which is used by corporate travel agencies and their corporate customers. It’s a different picture in Europe, though. While hotel transactions increased in the last quarter of 2021, they still have a way to go to reach 2019 levels. Volumes in December 2021 reached 53 percent of pre-pandemic volumes for the same month in 2019. Overall, the HotelHub Index reveals monthly transactions globally have risen to 61 percent of pre-pandemic volumes. The company predicts bookings made through its platform will reach pre-pandemic levels before the end of this year.
Jordan’s Flag Carrier Targets Bigger Share of Business Travelers
Royal Jordanian has launched a corporate program called Fly High as part of its five-year turnaround plan. It targets all sizes of companies, as well as corporate travel agents, non-profitable organizations and family businesses, in Jordan and abroad. The program is split into two parts: Tiara, which is designed to offer fare discounts to companies that already have organized travel programs and travel budgets, while also being able to keep their preferred travel management company; and Lionize, which offers benefits such as extra luggage, more flexibility in changing ticket dates, and a more flexible refund policy. Customers in the program receive “a substantial cost-friendly and budget saving service for high-volume travel, without any commitment,” according to Karime Makhlouf, the airline’s chief commercial officer.