Expert insight

Traveller Wellbeing – Who owns the travel time?

8 October 2019 by Matthew Holman, Head of Traveller Experience

Travel time to and from work is not usually counted as working hours. However, travel as part of the employee's duties is. With 19% of return trips on the same day, it's not unheard of to "work" 20-hour days - having an impact on wellbeing and productivity.

It’s 03:00, I am in bed at home and my alarm goes off. It is time to get up. This is not a ‘normal’ day.  It is a business travel day and need to fly to Amsterdam for a meeting. I need to catch the 06:40 flight from Heathrow to arrive in Amsterdam at 09:05. My meeting is in the city at a client’s office at 11:00 until 13:00.

Now, here is my quandary: during the booking process I know that my company policy is to book travel at the lowest cost. I check for my return flight, the more convenient 15:00 departure is available, but costs £160, whereas the 21:15 is also available and costs just £67 (saving £93 for my company), but costing six hours of ‘my time’. I am cost conscious for my organisation (it’s in policy) so I choose the later flight. This now means that I land at Heathrow at 21:30, with all my best hopes that I clear security, head to the (lowest cost) car parking option, and return home by at the earliest 23:00, before hoping to fall straight into bed and sleep. 

From getting out of bed to getting back into bed I have spent 20 hours of my 24-hour day.

This brings forward two questions:

  1. When does my work day start?
  2. Who owns my travel time?

Employee entitlements for working time

The European Working Time Directive states the following entitlements for employees:

  • An average of 48 hours ‘working’ in the working week
  • 11 hours of rest a day and the right to one day off each week 
  • The right to a rest break if the working day is longer than six hours.

In relation to travel time, the regulations state: Travel time to and from work is not usually counted as working hours. However, travel as part of the employee's duties is.

So who owns travel time?

So, what is the answer to the question? Does my trip to Amsterdam belong to me or is it owned by my company, and therefore I have already worked 20 of my 48 hour (average) this week?  We then bring up other questions as well:

  1. Do I get time to recover before my next trip / working day?
  2. Does my company recognise how long my day is?

If we compare a business travel day to my normal working day, the patterns are very different.  I know when I need to leave to get to the office, I know what time I will be working from – to, and what time I will get home, all is very clear.

The above was my life for 20 years.  I was a very frequent traveller, and day trips to Europe were perfectly normal, and expected as part of my job in Sales. I did not mind, but also did not recognise the long-term impact until I had my own personal mental health crisis in 2016, caused by fatigue, burnout and an unsupportive organisation. This must change and these questions must be addressed.

What our data tells us about travel time

Looking at how long our customers travel within the day, 19% of the return trips undertaken this year are on the same day - with 14% of them being UK domestic flights and 5% to / from Europe. The average duration of these flights vary from just under 1 hour in the UK, to just under 2 hours for flights to Europe – add to that the journey time to / from the airport and the 1 hour pre-flight check in cut off - a same day return trip can incorporate anything from 4- 8 hours (or more) of travelling, which does not leave a lot of productive time for travellers to do the job they actually travelled to achieve in the first place.

When looking at the times of travel, then 18% of trips take place during unsocial hours (before 7am or after 7pm). In the UK this is less prevalent, with only 10% of trips, but increasing to 20% for European trips.

Lastly, there is the question of whether it is reasonable to expect your employees to spend part of their weekends travelling for work. Overall, 15% of trips undertaken this year have departed or arrived on a weekend (outbound Friday - Sunday or inbound Saturday - Sunday). When looking at the destination we have less weekend travel on UK domestic trips, with 7% incorporating a weekend, and see an increase to 15% for European trip.  

If we take this further and look at the difference of time spent travelling via air vs rail, we can see some routes don’t have much time difference. For example, Edinburgh to Manchester has just a 10-minute time difference yet rail costs less than half the air cost! By switching to rail for ‘long journeys’ it could aid productivity and health with the ability to move around and alleviate the stress that comes with airport security and queues.

Taking a Smarter working approach

I manage my life differently now, not least by trying to live by the Capita Travel and Events’ Smarter Working practices and applying the Five Ways to Wellbeing framework.

When I must attend a meeting – especially overseas – I consider the following:

  1. Ask and check if the trip is absolutely necessary.
  2. Try to work around sociable hours for travel. Whilst being conscious of the trip cost, I now also put greater emphasis on the cost of my time.
  3. Plan as far in advance for the trip, know my itinerary and have everything confirmed.
  4. When I travel, I sleep whenever I feel tired (I can nap 2-3 times a day).  I keep hydrated with plenty of water, and I try my best to eat light meals and nothing too heavy.
  5. On a day trip, I will try and walk as much as possible during the day to keep active.
  6. Take time on my return to rest well, recover and prepare for the next activity.

Five ways to wellbeing

Capita Travel and Events' Five Ways to Wellbeing when travelling for work highlights the importance not only of being active and healthy, but also keeping connected with friends, family and colleagues, and doing everything you can to be at your best.

We use it to help organisations shape their travel programmes to what matters really to their travellers’ wellbeing, but it is also a practical and common-sense way to think about the things you can do to take personal ownership of time on the road.

We have recently incorporated Smarter working dashboards for our customers so organisations can see the impact on people and making necessary changes.

All of these initiatives are one step closer to raising awareness, understanding and solving the challenge of who owns the travel time and how it can be optimised for both traveller and the organisation.

Interested? Let’s have a chat about your company’s travel, meetings and events objectives - from the stuff that keeps you awake at night, to the everyday experiences of your employees! Call us on 0330 390 0340, or submit your details below.