I’m about to tell you an amazing story. You won’t believe anyone working in the corporate world could be this clueless, but believe me — I was there and it happened. This is a cautionary tale about how the minutiae of corporate travel guidelines get written. It also illustrates why employees who travel together should be encouraged to reinforce each other’s good behavior.
Imagine for a moment that your company is about to host its annual customer service conference in Orlando, Florida. This annual event takes place every February, and for a bunch of Minnesotans eager to escape the winter and spend a week in Orlando, the event is considered to be quite a “peach” of an assignment.
Prior to our departure, our chief executive officer held a special meeting to inform us that the company had purchased a night out in one of the Disney theme parks, complete with dinner and drinks, for employees and customers. The rules for us were quite simple and very clear:
- Stay sober. We need to be sure to present a “professional” appearance to our customers.
- Show up! It seemed crazy to me that our CEO would have to tell us to actually be there for such a large event; nevertheless, the event was declared “mandatory.”
- There will be no employee expenses approved for Tuesday night. After all, dinner, drinks, theme park, etc., were already provided.
Well as sure as the dawn, Tuesday came, and it came with problems. Everyone was excited but when the evening started, one employee was conspicuously missing. Nobody could find him, and we all had to pick up his slack. Well into the evening, he stumbled into the crowd, smelling of alcohol. I was stunned. This was embarrassing, ridiculous, and an obvious violation of rules. Quickly, a coworker and I escorted him back to his hotel room and sequestered him away.
After the trip, this employee went on to submit an expense report for the booze that he bought for himself and his friends. Naturally the expense was denied; shortly afterward, he actually faxed the expense report to one of our customers, asking for reimbursement! He had taken a few of his buddies out for drinks using our company card, and since our company refused to pay for it, he thought our customer should, since his buddies worked for them.
I believe that managers spend about 10 percent of their time policing and managing nine-tenths of their employees. That last one-tenth, that “special” employee, will require the other 90 percent of a manager’s attention. If traveling employees want to continue to enjoy the few perks and the precious handful of generous policies that remain in their traveling world, they need to keep an eye out for those “exceptions to the rule.” Managers should encourage this. There was a time when an errant worker like the one in my story would simply have been fired on the spot, but these days things are different.
Today, an entire booklet of new, more restrictive expense and travel policies will be created prior to an employee’s dismissal, just because that employee pushed the envelope at every opportunity. As a manager, you can incorporate this kind of example into your training for business travel: If you’re traveling with one of these party animals, suggest alternatives to their plan for an expensive dinner. Remind them that just because there’s not a rule that says, “No,” it doesn’t mean an automatic “Yes!” Common sense and cooler heads should prevail. Remind employees who travel to document everything they do on such trips and save every receipt. Show them the benefits of taking the cheaper flight and skipping the extravagant meal: They can be the one to set a good example and keep corporate travel enjoyable for everyone.