GUILT TRIPS

A small boy looks out from the televi-
sion screen. “Please,” he says, “make sure my Dad has map. He hates to ask for one.”
Late last year, in the American Fall, the Sheraton hotel chain began State-wide advertising campaign using children to speak for the business traveller. This cute sales pitch prompted them to look more closely at particular group of business travellers – those with children at home. They surveyed parents whose business had taken them out of town for minimum of three consecutive nights during last year. Amongst their findings: 67 percent of the parents polled had refused to go on business trip because it conflicted with children’s activities; just over 40 percent would cut business short for child’s birthday or illness; and nearly third won’t travel if it clashes with school function. The playroom wins over the boardroom more than many suspected.
Men’s and women’s responses to the challenges and concerns of the business traveller were often much the same. However, men are more likely to be lonely on the road than women – men miss their spouse more; while women tend to feel more guilty about being away from their children. At the same time, women enjoy break from the kids and family routines and responsibilities twice as much as men.
Very little is known about business travel for New Zealanders with families. The first qualitative research is just now being undertaken at Massey University’s College of Business. For the moment then, consider these US figures as possible foretaste of developments much closer to home, as more and more companies find they need permanent, temporary or periodic representation in other regions and countries.
Forty-three million Americans – 32 percent of the country’s working adults – travelled on business in 1998, and nearly half of them were raising at least one child at home. Penn State University recently estimated that by this year, of the 40-plus million travellers, 50 percent will be women. This is massive increase from barely measurable one percent in 1970. At the same time, the number of two-career and single parent households continues to grow. Something has had to give. Research by Dupont found that nearly quarter of US employees – men and women – have rejected jobs that would have required increased travel. Others turned the problem on its head – survey of over 15,000 adults found that in just 10 years the number of business trips that included child increased by more than 300 percent. While still only small percentage of all work trips, it is growing component of business travel; and one with ramifications for number of industries, including childcare, airlines and hotels.

Road worriers
These days, it is not just high powered executives, sales and marketing, or the owners of small and medium sized companies, who become road warriorse and worriers. Increasing numbers of men and women from the lower levels of corporate and public service hierarchies (and lower socio-economic groups) are travelling out of town on team-building exercises and training and incentive programmes. And this at time when the shape and makeup of families in this country also continues to change. For instance: 18 percent of New Zealand families are now headed by sole parents; 68 percent of parents with at least one child under 14 are employed. Households where both parents work are far from US levels; but neither are they the exception. In December 1998, women made up 45 percent of the local work force – at the end of the March 2000 quarter, which equalled 799,000.
Holding good people
Overseas companies and organisations are putting serious thought into ways of reducing such stress, and holding on to good employees. Xerox in America publishes handbook of tips for employees who travel. It includes very basic but essential information for those trying to maintain good contact with home, such as time zone differences. But the greatest concern remains childcare, particularly if both parents work. Few can afford full-time, live-in help. More US companies now reimburse employees for childcare costs while they are on business trips; or pay for out-of-town grandparents to come and stay with the children. Sometimes when new mother has to travel, companies pay for her baby to go with her. Many major hotels have on-site babysitting. (During the America’s Cup, The Heritage Auckland was home to 20 children from several competing teams and established school on site.)

Staying in touch
The EEO Trust says some local employers are beginning to introduce similar initiatives. HortResearch, Nelson Polytechnic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade refund all or part of additional childcare costs when staff travel for work. Others, such as Meridian Energy, allow children to accompany an employee to conferences when necessary and make use of childcare facilities there. Some companies have ceiling on the amount of overseas travel required each year; or try not to schedule trips during peak holiday times. Allowing people to have some control over when they travel can reduce pressure. However, this is not always possible. Regular and extended overseas postings are given in the Royal New Zealand Navy. family email link is the service’s practical solution to the problems of families trying to stay in touch. Families without computers have access to machines at the Devonport naval base. During an especially long deployment couple of years ago, they provided number of families outside the area with computer.
Problems and stresses do not necessarily end with the trip. surprise finding by the Centre for Work and the Family in Berkley, California, revealed that sometimes the hardest part was the return to family. Reality did not match the anticipation of reunion – the needs of the person who has been away were often quite the opposite to the person who was left at home. Both are often tired, but for different reasons. The traveller longs for home cooked meal while the home parent would love to go out. The traveller hasn’t seen enough of the children; the parent at home may have had no other company. The traveller has had break from household responsibilities and routines; their partner has carried double the load. The traveller returns feeling they have accomplished something, while the person at home may feel things have been on hold. On the work front, making sure that employees do not come back to backlog of work, when they have been working intensively while away, makes for much less stressful (and resentful) return to the office.
Virtual travel
For some employees, the ultimate solution to the difficulties posed by business travel is to reduce the need for it to minimum. This “third way” has been helped by technology. Instead of travelling to meeting, businesses are using conference calls, voicemail and videoconferencing. Employees talk of working in “virtual teams” where members are stationed in offices in several different cities. The benefits apply to single people as well, often chosen for company travel because they don’t have family responsibilities. They point out they are never likely to get married and have children if they don’t have time to make connections in their home city.
The onus is on companies to look lot more closely at their corporate culture. There are number of questions they should be considering. Could workers alternate six months on and six months off assignments involving regular travel out of town? Could they take an alternative track within the company that did not involve travel while their children are young? Could they work part-time if they wanted to spend more time with their family or travel less? And if none of these options are possible, is the company doing all it can for employees with families when they are away from home on company business?
Anyone interested in contributing to local research project on Women as Busines

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