Tailor Your Travel PolicyJanuary 23, 2023

Consider Employees With Chronic Illnesses By
January 23, 2023

Tailor Your Travel Policy

Consider Employees With Chronic Illnesses

Jones-Tifani-Col-110Tifani Jones is the director of global development and sales operations at Fox World Travel. She leads the business travel sales team to grow Fox’s global presence and market share in the travel management space. With more than 30 years in the travel and sales industry, Jones specializes in sales, revenue management, lead nurturing, contract negotiation, mentoring and speaking. Jones’ accomplishments include receiving an Association Leadership Award in 2015 while serving on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives. 

Traveling for work conferences, meetings and expos are commonplace for many organizations. It’s a way to stay up to date on the latest industry trends and network with other professionals. Since many organizations are familiar with this aspect of their business, travel policies are often ironed out efficiently. Unfortunately, one area that organizations sometimes overlook is travel policies that consider employees living with chronic illness or other mental and/or physical health diagnoses. It’s not uncommon for employees to keep this type of information private, which is why it’s oftentimes overlooked. If a company is forthcoming about its intentions to make travel accessible to all employees, it can create a culture of inclusivity and set an example for other organizations.

The easiest way to explain how organizations can make travel more accessible for people with illnesses is to share my own story. Earlier in my career, I worked at a company where a big part of my job was to travel to different conferences and network with people. I have always been the type of person who takes a lot of pride in my work, so when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, it came as a shock and with a whole load of questions:

  • How will this impact my family?
  • How did this happen?
  • Can it be cured?
  • I travel a lot for my job, can I still work?
  • I have a conference coming up for work, how am I going to continue my job while getting treatment?

These are just a few of the questions that go through someone’s mind when they are diagnosed with a chronic illness or cancer diagnosis. I, like many other people, was determined not to let my treatment or my disease keep me from doing my job. That meant I was going to have to continue traveling to conferences. But, in the back of my mind, I was constantly worried about what would happen if I got sick while on a trip.

I ended up scheduling the surgery for two weeks after a major trip I had coming up. If I got sick while on my business trip, I would have to postpone my surgery and postpone my healing. While everything worked out in the end, I learned a lot about how inclusive policies are about creating an environment that identifies obstacles for all employees, including those with illness. Here are some ways organizations can alleviate these struggles for their employees.

Foster a Culture of Care and Communicate Your Goals

Employees are more than just a number. People want to feel seen and heard and cared for by their employers. Employers can demonstrate their care for employees by proactively showcasing their travel policies, and how they are making updates to create a better experience for their employees.

If an employee is diagnosed with an illness and needs ongoing treatment or appointments that interfere with their job, they will often communicate their situation and how it might impact their work hours or normal workflow. Sometimes this is communicated with management, and other times it is just shared with the human resources department. For organizations that are creating an inclusive, accepting work environment, it’s important to provide a network of support for your employees.

One way to do this is to have management provide opportunities for employees to critique and provide feedback on policies that offer the potential to be more robust. Employers could plan to review company policies with employees annually and ensure their teams understand their intention to create and provide inclusive policies. Specifically for travel policies, organizations should outline a process for making travel accommodations for employees. Let them know it is OK to request specific travel accommodations and encourage open communication about travel concerns.

When someone is facing a difficult moment in life, oftentimes they don’t want to be singled out or feel that they are a burden to others, but when it comes to travel and taking care of employees, it is necessary to have appropriate accommodations for those with a chronic illness or other health diagnoses. If an employee understands the company’s policies and commitment to inclusivity, it makes for one less thing to worry about.

Understand Adaptations May Need to be Made

Maybe an employee doesn’t have a disease but is dealing with a different health consideration. A great example of this is an employee with a peanut allergy. People with peanut allergies run into many obstacles throughout their daily life. In severe cases, some cannot fly commercially because of the risks associated with a plane full of people and their various carry-on items. While this does not mean this person isn’t a great employee, it does mean that an employer needs to allow them adaptations when it comes to travel.

For a case like this, the employer may provide a rental vehicle and additional days for the person to drive to their destination. It could mean looking at upgrading their plane ticket and working with the airline company to seat the employee in a buffer zone. Either way, it’s important to communicate with the employee about their concerns and work with the travel manager to iron out the details to keep employees safe and healthy.

Be Willing to Change Company Policy

Organizations should also be mindful of requests and changes based on individual preferences. For example, if a traveling employee has diabetes and the company policy is to cover a certain number of meals while on this trip, the employee may request a different policy for expenses.

Normally when employees travel, they eat out at restaurants that provide dining receipts for their meals. An employee with diabetes may prefer to shop at a grocery store while traveling because they can purchase food that helps manage their glucose levels.

You would think as long as the grocery receipts stay within the allotted meal budget, a company would accept them, but some travel policies don’t count grocery or drug store receipts as valid travel expenses. This is a perfect example of a policy that a company can evaluate, update and communicate to employees. Someone struggling with diabetes may not want to ask their boss for this sort of adaptation, but proactive travel policy changes can eliminate the need for uncomfortable conversations.

These changes are small, but the impact on those employees with chronic illnesses or other health diagnoses is huge. Inclusive travel policies create a ripple throughout a company and lead to a better culture. Do you want to update your company’s travel policies? Consider taking these steps:

  • Open up your company handbook and review the travel policies in place.
  • Evaluate those policies from the standpoint of the examples above.
  • Identify barriers and struggles those employees may encounter.
  • Brainstorm solutions the company can provide to make travel easier for those employees.
  • Provide an anonymous channel for employees to critique and provide feedback on travel policies.

Change is not always easy, but if you can approach company travel policies from an employee-first mindset, you can truly create an inclusive culture that cares about its people.  | AC&F |

Back To Top