International Supplement 2005 – Feature: Commuters under your wing?

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The life of a jet-setting A-List celebrity holds a certain appeal. Being paid to travel the world can be far more alluring than spending your working life tied to a desk. The increasing availability of low cost travel means that it is easier than ever for staff to jet between countries on business. "There is a tendency, especially if it’s [for] a short-term project that companies will expect people to do a weekly or monthly commute," explains Fran Wilson, manager, international at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). She adds staff may find that time spent on business travel is now a pre-requisite for many senior management roles. But spending so much time on the road – or in the air – can take its toll on staff, which presents employers with a fresh set of challenges when looking to put together a benefits package to best support them. Frequent travelling will inevitably impact on employees’ health, particularly when jetting between time zones. So employers need to ensure that their healthcare package is tailored to meet their needs. "One of the most essential things is proper healthcare provision because it can be very difficult if you’re travelling overseas and a medical problem ensues. It’s obviously going to cost as well, so it’s important to have a flexible, reliable healthcare policy. People who are [travelling frequently] can be under quite a lot of strain so they might be more at risk of being exposed to different germs," explains Wilson. A number of healthcare packages on the market specifically cater for staff that spend much of their time outside of the UK. These range from international private medical insurance cover to 24-hour telephone helplines to help staff source medical treatment abroad. "I would expect people would want to make sure [staff] have access to good medical attention," says David Callund, chairman of international consultancy Callund Consulting. In areas where adequate hospital care is not readily available, employers may need to ensure provisions are in place to transport employees elsewhere for treatment. Providing globetrotting staff with medical travel packs containing information on topics such as a country’s main food types, diseases and a guide to local medical facilities can help to prevent some potential problems. Similarly, pre-travel language training and cultural briefings can make a trip as stress-free as possible. David Heppard, head of international at healthcare provider IHC, says: "It’s important from the employer’s point of view that they are as proactive as possible. A lot of organisations are now looking at [carrying out] pre-travel medicals at least once a year for business travellers." Perks such as local gym membership while staff are away, meanwhile, can boost their fitness and wellbeing. These can also be a good way of maintaining morale, which can easily wane if their free time is spent alone in faceless hotel rooms. And where staff are expected to attend corporate functions, some employers provide a clothing allowance to cover the cost of evening dress. Inevitably, employees that spend much of their time away from home will struggle to achieve a good work-life balance. One option is to enable partners to accompany staff on short-term assignments abroad, which can also help to boost employee morale and motivation. In many cases, however, this will not be practical so employers will need to find another way to ensure that staff have an adequate break from work. "Lots of companies give time off in lieu as compensation to make sure [staff] are not running themselves ragged and spending too much time away from their family," explains the CIPD’s Wilson. While a good benefits package is important to help support staff in this line of work, it is not always essential to help with recruitment. Callund Consulting’s Callund, believes that prospective candidates will be attracted more by the nature of the role. He adds that employees typically will not expect to receive additional perks to compensate them for embarking on such frequent travel and will have considered the pros and cons of doing so before applying for the position. The CIPD’s Wilson agrees. "In general, [employers] should try and offer the same as they would to employees [based] in this country. It’s not to make them better off than staff based in their home country, it’s to make sure they aren’t missing out."