Show me any company that has a division or department where travel is required, and I’ll show you a long list of that company’s employees who would give almost anything to transfer into it. If you’ve been at this game for a while though, you know that the grass is not always greener on the frequent-flier side of the fence. The higher the percentage of travel required, the higher the rate of turnover — I can guarantee it. Here are some ideas that should help you retain the employees who travel well for your company.
It starts upfront, before an employee is even hired. During an interview, the question immediately comes up, “How much travel is really required?” Hedging this number to quell the fear of the interviewee only postpones the inevitable. When they find out the truth, they’ll be travel-weary and angry about being lied to. Tell prospective employees exactly how you compute your “travel percentage” numbers and then tell the candidate honestly what those numbers are. Personally, I define “percent of travel” as the number of nights I spend in a bed other than my own divided by the number of work nights available in one fiscal quarter. So if there are 58 work nights in a quarter (not counting holidays or weekend nights) and I spend 54 of those nights in a hotel, that’s 93.1 percent. That’s a lot. Just telling someone something like, “We travel about 50 percent of the time here,” is a little vague and it means different things to different people.
Be flexible. While it’s not always true that “rules are made to be broken,” some corporate policies were written with a flexible nature to them, and sometimes managers forget about the flexible part. Employees can stick with some undesirable work circumstances if they have a great boss. Consider preapproving a nice dinner in an expensive restaurant for the employee who didn’t mind when asked to extend their trip. If it’s cheaper for an employee to spend Friday night away from home and to fly home on Saturday, is it too much to ask for the company to pick up the extra hotel night?
Being away for three or four consecutive weeks makes it difficult to get regular “home chores” done (haircuts, dental appointments, cars to the mechanic, etc.). As a perk, allowing the employees to expense a haircut once in awhile (for example) is a low-cost item that goes a long way for the employee. Perhaps a half-day of compensation time to take care of some personal chores with the local 9 to 5 businesses is merited.
Frequent travelers often miss the day-to-day corporate events that the rest of your employees experience. Casual Fridays, staff meetings, and other company-sponsored activities are lost on employees who aren’t there. Allowing your traveling employees to dress casually while in the home office (since they’re in business dress on their trips) is a nice perk. Should they really try to dial into some of the more mundane office meetings while they’re on the road? Travelers can submit their status updates, etc., in an e-mail to their manager and managers can summarize for their travelers — can’t they?
Departments with traveling employees are perceived as “special” by other departments that don’t travel. But the truth is, it does take a special kind of person to routinely leave their family and home life week after week. It’s a grind that will eventually take its toll. For every canceled flight, rental car with a flat tire, or rainy day in the middle of “nowhere,” you want to have a manager who can find creative ways to support the folks who are willing to do it again and again.