‘The balance of trust and expectation for employees may suddenly have shifted’ – mental health and duty of care in a COVID-impacted world

Companies have a moral and legal obligation to protect employees. In the office, this means maintaining a safe work environment and offering the necessary equipment, but similarly those on the road need to be kept safe. When employees are traveling the employer must continue to respect this duty of care and offer appropriate protection. That is now more prominently in the headlights in the COVID-19 affected world.

The business travel landscape has been massively impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Business travel came to a screeching halt towards the end of 1Q 2020 and has yet to see real uplift since, albeit there are pockets of promise. The fact is many people stopped travelling due to concerns over health risks and potential exposure to the virus, with many employers following suit in order to keep their employees safe.

As individuals and employers now start to think about business travel, prevention will continue to be of the utmost importance to minimise their exposure to the virus. Following guidelines has become second nature. The problem is there continues to be a substantial amount of apprehension by employees to be on the road, and even more concern among employers to allow travel for work.

“There’s a greater spotlight being placed on duty of care” since pre COVID-19 times,” acknowledged  Andrew Ebringer, regional medical director, International SOS at the November edition of CAPA LIVE, a monthly virtual “summit”, offering insights, information, data and live interviews across a next-gen virtual event platform.

In the COVID world, there’s more acute focus on the employer’s duty of care, and even more awareness that things can go wrong. Before COVID, people would travel for business and not really think about the risks because nothing’s ever happened to them before. But in this COVID world, it’s impossible not to pay attention to the risks.

Mr Ebringer stated the three main considerations that need to be looked at when planning travel for staff include a risk assessment of destinations based on medical and security criteria, assessment of COVID vulnerability status of travellers and a pre-travel health review on fitness to travel based on health status.

It is not just duty of care, but also safeguarding employee mental health. It is tough on us all already in these unprecedented times, but after such a hiatus the positives of returning to travel could quickly be overcome by the mental strain it exerts, especially the increased working hours while travelling and the stresses that go with it.

“The balance of trust and expectation for employees may suddenly have shifted and companies will need to consider the best way to support the mental health and connectedness of their teams,” said  Adriana Nainggolan, program manager, Asia Pacific for Autodesk Travel in a Bow-Tie Briefing interview at CAPA Live with Dr Benson Tang, executive director of CTC – Corporate Travel Community. Here’s a snippet from the interview.

As we now lift our head up we are starting to see a different business travel environment. MW Travel Consultancy principal Martin Warner notes the role of the TMC will change. Speaking in a CAPA LIVE session he said: “The historic 2019 model suggests that it is two thirds funded by suppliers and only one third funded by customers. That will inevitably change, therefore the role of the TMC needs to be redefined”.

TMCs must move fast to ensure the confidence and support of the client is retained, activities do not disappear, and clients do not think about how to restructure how they consume TMC services. But, Mr Warner suggested “it is quite genuinely possible that 30% of transactions simply do not return” with available technology alternatives for replacing travel for the purpose of internal meetings.

A concern, but a much lower figure than Microsoft supremo Bill Gates had suggested recently.  You can more about his observation on the business travel recovery in this insight: Pick a number, any number! Bill Gates says we could lose over 50% of business travel: it would take the potential scale of the COVID crisis to new heights for the corporate travel sector

Mr Warner was joined by Ian Heywood, formerly of Travelport, during his CAPA LIVE session in November, who acknowledged TMCs must look for other opportunities in 2021 if corporate revenue is going to be the last to come back and during 2021 remain severely reduced. For airlines, he warned of a “perfect storm” coming.

“I think that the airlines in 2021 will be in a perfect storm where not only will they have less capacity, but there will also be lower load factors, and there will also be lower yield,” he said. “Particularly because on the yield front, you’ve got corporate customers that are expected to come back last, you’ve got the short haul and leisure passengers who are expected to return to travel first, which means that your yield as an average will be lower anyway.”

Mr Heywood said airlines must monitor the market in 2021. “If you get a world trained sales force who understand their markets, then they can thrive,” but in this environment “thrive may mean survive,” he explained. “All of the players in the industry are going to affected, but not by just one component, and that is what is going to be so difficult … Whoever you are, you are going to be taking a hit on multiple fronts,” he added.

The December edition of CAPA LIVE on 09-Dec-2020 will see further CTC – Corporate Travel Community supported content, including a Masterclass from Dr Doug Quarry, medical director, innovation, International SOS, looking at the outlook for corporate travel in 2021. Dr Benson Tang will be joined by Mritunjaya Mohan, global travel manager, Adobe in his Bow-Tie Briefing interview and Martin Warner will continue discussing if corporate clients ready for a new TMC value proposition and pricing / commercial model with John Harvey, managing partner, Harvey & Heywood the guest.

Click here to learn more and register to gain access to all the November content on-demand and to watch December’s material live.

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