In addition, during this time, many companies abolished their business class travel policies for transcontinental travel even though a life threatening condition called Economy Class Syndrome appeared to be causing more and more concern. Given that many of the firms who abolished business class travel put their top executives in executive jets this would seem foolish on two fronts:
One, it would tend to make the executives appear even more elitist (and can work against green efforts) and alienate their employees, making it harder to manage; and two, it would seem to open the firm to very painful and public litigation should a employee die and their family focus their grief, and focus their litigation, on the company and not the carrier. To add insult to injury many of these CEOs actually use these corporate jets like personal possessions and loan them to their kids to use.
I don’t want to think how much fun a prosecuting attorney would have with that one, were one of these firms on the receiving end of a wrongful death action.
Torturing Employees to Save Money
I don’t get this. I just don’t. If it is important enough to fund corporate jets so top executives can arrive to their destinations on-time and safe, why isn’t it important enough for other members of the firm?
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I can certainly understand limiting travel to save money, but given the reality that the time spent in the air is largely unproductive in coach class seating. Sitting in these seats, which often have worn out padding and don’t even recline enough so you can sleep, seems way too similar to what is used in certain interrogation techniques (some even call it ”torture”). No wonder children often scream when placed in these things; they aren’t that much different than the “sitting in the corner” form of punishment even for them.
Now for 3 or even 6 hours, I think anyone, other than children, can probably tolerate these things but, seriously, for 8, 10, and even 12 hours? If you forced an employee to sit in a space for 8 hours that was as tightly confined as the middle seat in a typical coach configuration I think you’d be hit by serious employee abuse and OSHA problems.
I mean, you can certainly save a lot of money by cutting cubicle size down to 4’ x 4’ size right? Why not 3’ X 3’?
Now let’s add the Russian Roulette chance that you could miss a connection, have serious mechanical problems (and I’ve had 4 incidences myself this year, one requiring fire trucks on landing), or even premature death due to a blood clot or catastrophic problem, and you have a reason to revisit your travel policy.
Policies Making the Problem Worse
So what happens when companies stop paying for Business Class? Well, carriers wanting to make money make these classes smaller and that means employees who used to be able to upgrade can’t because there is no room available.
Competition, then, is increasingly on price only because firms don’t factor in employee comfort. So on bread and butter business routes you get smaller and smaller business class sections and tighter and tighter coach class seating with planes that are often over-booked and under maintained.
I can imagine an event where a plane goes down with a lot of employees from one company on it and it instigates a legendary class action, holding the company as well as the airline accountable for failing to adequately protect these employees. Because there is nothing in the policy for selecting either the carrier or the class of service that has any focus on employee safety or wellbeing.
Changing Travel Policy and Implementing Mandatory Video Conferencing
I clearly think travel policies should focus on the need to travel in the first place and not torture employees who are traveling for the employer’s benefit. This isn’t about coddling employees, it is ensuring they arrive at their destinations safe and ready to work.
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This would suggest selecting carriers who have modern equipment (some economy class carriers are actually not bad) over those with aging fleets; selecting carriers who have the best safety records; and yes, reinstating business class policies for travel that exceeds an 8-hour working day (personally I think it should be anything over 5 hours).
To keep costs down, raise the level of approval needed for all air travel and implement Video Conferencing as a lower cost alternative.
HP, Cisco, Polycom, Tandberg and others have a variety of systems which HD quality can dramatically lower travel costs, increase employee productivity (by keeping them off planes), and decrease the likelihood they will be injured while traveling. LiveSize recently brought out a system for under $5K making this technology nearly low cost enough to put in an employee’s home and making the cost of a trial deployment for any large firm near trivial.
HP just completed a deal with the Marriott to put systems in Marriott hotels so that you don’t even have to buy a system; you’ll be able to rent one once they are installed and available.
Think for a moment what you would say if asked, after an employee or group of employees had died, why you hadn’t looked at alternatives to air travel given what was known about the problems, and particularly if your own top executive flew on a private jet.
Wrapping Up: Protecting Our Greatest Asset
Employees are our greatest asset. Forcing them to take personal risks to save a buck when you can both save that buck and protect the employee is bad policy. Think about the employees’ attitude, the quality of their work, and what it would be like to look at their wife and children should something happen that could have been avoided on a business trip.
If that isn’t enough, litigation is increasing in areas related to employee safety, and this one could focus people like lasers on CEO corporate jet perks, with devastating results.
Risk is risk, if someone is badly hurt citing statistics isn’t going to be much comfort. People don’t have to fly as much as they currently do, there are less expensive alternatives; and if they do have to fly, torturing them to save money is simply bad policy for them and for you. Employees are people, they aren’t cattle, and when we start getting more concerned about cattle safety then employee safety it is time for a change.