Want to get employees traveling again? HR needs to educate

As business travel begins to take off post-pandemic, that's the key to easing workers’ fears, Alaska Airlines CHRO says.
By: | June 15, 2021

As moratoriums on business travel begin to lift and employees are being asked to head out on the road, what can HR leaders do to help alleviate fears that some wary employees may still have about being in confined or crowded spaces like airports and planes?

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Business travel is hovering around 25% of what it was pre-pandemic, Kevin Martin, chief research officer at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), said during a recent CHRO roundtable discussion on the topic.

Also see: Why empathy is key as employees return to workplaces

And looking forward, a majority (60%) of CHROs attending the roundtable said in a live survey they expect less business travel than pre-pandemic, with only 21% predicting domestic travel will either increase or be equivalent to what it was before COVID-19.

Andy Schneider of Alaska Airlines

“While we heard business travel will all dry up, we’re starting to hear come the fall, employees will be back on the road,” said Andy Schneider, senior vice president of people at Alaska Airlines. “Maybe not as much; I think some of this tech has made it easier for a lot of people to conduct their business from wherever, but I think we’ll see a comeback.”

Indeed, the need for in-person meetings is being reassessed, as organizations in the last year have seen huge cost savings from eliminating travel, said Kari Naimon, senior research analyst at i4cp.

“But a big question is, what are we losing?”

Related: CDC mask guidance is upping employee anxiety. Now what?

Schneider agreed.

“Personal interactions are important,” she said. “Companies can save a lot of money not having everyone on the road.” But she anticipates many uncertainties around travel will diminish once travel becomes more commonplace and international travel reopens.

Until then, employers that are going to send workers into the skies can help ease safety concerns through education, Schneider said.

There has been a lot of research and a big push from all carriers to work with the FAA to study air patterns and risk of infection within airplanes, she said.

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She pointed to Alaska Airline’s own website, as well as others, as sources of reliable information for HR leaders, including such data as:

  • Travelers wearing a mask have a 0.003% or near-zero chance of being exposed to the virus, even on a full aircraft, (according to a recent Department of Defense study).
  • HEPA filters remove 99.9% of airborne particles, including viruses like COVID-19 and other variants.
  • Outside and filtered air in the cabin is exchanged every 2–3 minutes, giving better ventilation than grocery stores and office buildings.

“We knew if everyone didn’t feel safe, they weren’t going to come back,” Schneider said. “There’s some good stuff out there. Encourage your employees to get educated.”

Nick Otto is HRE’s senior digital editor. He is a professional communicator with more than a decade of demonstrated accomplishments in newspaper and trade publishing. He has spent the past five years covering the employee benefits space and holds bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He can be reached at notto@lrp.com or follow him on twitter @Ottografs.

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