Sometimes managing a group of travelers is like being the referee in a giant tug-o-war. On one side you have relentless pressure to trim the budget and save money. On the other you have a group of intelligent employees who travel for you, and keeping their morale high is key to keeping them (and their talent) onboard. There are ways to let both sides win the battle while keeping the flag on the rope in the middle.
Smaller incidental expenses (like hotel room movies, laundry, etc.) may not seem like much per employee, but if you multiply those over multiple weeks, they can — and will — significantly add up. Let’s consider one way to manage (or rather, one way to help your employees manage) some of these. The following conversation actually took place recently, and I happened to be on hand to witness it:
Boss: I’m looking at your expense report from Chicago, and it looks as though you watched a movie?
Employee: Yes, I did. I watched Alien vs. Predator. It was a terrible movie, but I learned that an alien’s jaws will penetrate a hardhat or safety helmet, and that was pretty cool.
Boss: You can’t expense movies. They’re too expensive.
Employee: I’m sorry, but according to the company policy, I can expense a movie if I stay longer than three days. I was in Chicago for a week, so…
Boss: Well, my personal management policy is to increase our financial bottom line and as people travel under my watch, they won’t be expensing any movies.
Employee: I hope an alien eats your kid.
Boss: What was that?
Employee: I said, “I’m off to edit and resubmit!”
This conversation solved the manager’s problem, but for the employee it created some negative feelings about the whole situation in general. Some people may think that it’s unreasonable to expect an employee to abandon all of the creature comforts they’re used to while they’re on the road.
As a technical trainer, I have anywhere between 5 and 30 students who each pay between $3,000 and $5,000 for the class they’re taking. Typically, it costs the company about $2,000 to send me somewhere (and feed me) for a week, so the rest is pure profit for the business. Why should they begrudge me $13 for a movie? Simple. One reason is that allowing movies in hotel rooms opens a door for movies in theaters, then popcorn, then other shows in theaters, and before you know it, someone will attempt to expense a Broadway show and then suddenly, new and more prohibitive policies are born.
Therefore communication becomes the key to your survival, plain and simple. Here’s a trick that will help. Explain the bigger picture to the employee and suggest an alternative way to manage the expense. For instance, you could tell the employee:
“When you check in, give the desk clerk more than one credit card. You can open as many accounts with the hotel as you like. Each account will have its own folio associated with it when you check out. When you check in, tell the desk clerk, ‘Please charge movies and incidentals to this card and charge room rate, meals, and taxes to this card.’ When you check out, you’ll have different folios that are itemized for your own personal use or for expensing.”
BANG, you’ve offered your employee instant help in completing the expense spreadsheets on the plane trip home! Who knows, there may be a different budget you can dip into to reimburse the employee for the movie in a different way if the situation merits such an act.
Often, enforcing policies regarding incidental expenses like this falls into a gray area. There may not be specific policies written to enforce them and truth be known, there are times when they may be merited. It’s a judgment call between a manager and his or her employees. Suggesting alternative methods and good communication are key to both sides walking away from the rope happy!