Don’t Get Burned by Travel Team Burnout

Don’t Get Burned by Travel Team Burnout

Employee burnout is a bad thing — no surprise there. But neglected burnout poses real dangers for EAs and travelers responsible for coordinating and completing corporate travel.

Employee burnout is a bad thing. We all know that. But in too many companies, leadership doesn’t realize just how seriously their travel program contributes to burnout. This problem poses real dangers – for EAs and others responsible for coordinating corporate travel as well as for travelers themselves.

Burnout is costly, in so many ways

The World Health Organization has officially dubbed burnout an “occupational phenomenon” caused by unmanaged, chronic work-related stress. As a result, employees:

  • Feel exhausted or de-energized
  • Mentally distance themselves from (or become overtly negative about) their job
  • Lose productivity

Burnout-related employer healthcare costs run $125 and $190 billion annually. About 8% of that is due to workplace stress. Many of these employees eventually leave — in fact, as much as 20-50% of employee turnover can be attributed to burnout. On average, that costs employers 34% of the employee’s annual salary.

Attorneys are now warning that burnout can be a workplace safety issue. They cite OSHA’s mandate that employers protect workers from hazards, and note that burned-out workers not only fall behind in their work, they are more likely to have or cause accidents due to lack of awareness of their surroundings, reduced response time, and deficient driving. This translates directly to your corporate travel program, in that:

  • You have a duty of care to protect employees traveling for business while they’re on the road
  • Poor productivity damages business initiatives and relationships on the road as well as in the office
  • Inattention to surroundings and/or slower reaction times is as dangerous for travelers in unfamiliar environments as it is for workers on a busy production floor

Travel is critical for business success and growth, and it’s one of your biggest budget lines. That makes your travel team one of your greatest corporate assets. The last thing you want is for anyone who works on the road or supports them behind the scenes to burn out and quit.

How Executive Assistants suffer

Mission creep — the subtle yet inexorable expansion of job duties — is an issue commonly faced by EAs. Travel coordination has always been part of your EA’s job, but as your company has grown, the role now encompasses booking and tracking many more travelers and trips. It’s no longer an adjunct responsibility, it’s a job in itself.

Mission creep can be a major source of burnout. EAs cannot reasonably be expected to do an ever-increasing number of things, let alone do them all well. Where’s the quiet time to take a break or think? Where’s the time to stay up-to-date with constantly changing travel trends, let alone the changing needs of your own travelers? Where’s the personal time if your EA is always on call 24/7 in case a traveling co-worker needs assistance?

But there’s a related issue, says executive assistant mentor Jeremy Burrows — “mission drift.” For some EAs, the problem isn’t necessarily job over-expansion, it’s a change in direction. Companies change, and an EA’s work evolves alongside that. If your EA loved the original job but a greatly increased role in travel coordination isn’t really their thing, they will lose interest.

How business travelers suffer

Too much of a good thing is bad for business travelers. Most people love to travel for work, but when your road warriors are away more than they are at home, that lovin’ feeling about travel often goes away, too.

If your company’s duty of care plan is vague or non-existent, travelers may assume you don’t care about their health or safety. Aren’t you supposed to have their back? If you don’t, employees can feel abandoned. That leads to lack of trust, burnout, and – you guessed it – turnover. Who wants to bust their gut for a company that won’t be there for them when they need help most?

What’s an employer to do?

Recognizing the signs and causes and proactively working to prevent burnout can boost overall company health as well as travel program effectiveness. With all that riding on the line, you can:

  • Address burnout head-on.

Learn the early warning signs -- employees may seem tired, depressed, demoralized, unable to concentrate, anxious, or downright cranky. Talk about the problem during your ongoing travel team training, and encourage your EA and travelers to share their own coping and relief techniques.

  • Review your corporate travel policy.

How can you make it more traveler-friendly, or ease your EA’s travel-related workload?

  • Recruit an AI.

Digital corporate travel management technology can simplify and automate every step of the process, from planning and booking trips to monitoring and supporting travelers to end-of-trip expensing. That saves time and improves outcomes throughout your travel program. If you haven’t checked out, do that.

  • Actively encourage employees to take time off.

Twenty percent of employees are “engaged-exhausted” — interested in their job but stressed and frustrated and at great risk of burnout. Sounds like your travel team, doesn’t it? “The higher the work demands,” concludes the Harvard Business Review, “the higher employees’ need for support, acknowledgement, or opportunities for recovery.” We repeat: opportunities for recovery.

At least half of American workers don’t take the vacation they’ve earned. Many work while on “vacation.” Time off should be time off — disconnected and truly away. One way to encourage employee travel is to let everyone use your corporate booking tool for personal travel, too. They’ll save time, and they can piggyback on your great rates.

EAs and employees who travel are arguably your hardest-working team members. This makes them particularly vulnerable to burnout. By taking the steps we’ve outlined here, you can ensure your company won’t get burned by burnout.

About the Author: Jeanne Hopkins
Jeanne was the CMO of from 2018-20.