Duty of care often used to be crisis management, largely used by oil and gas companies and others operating in remote and danger-prone environments.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the evolving nature of work changed that. Now, it’s not tenable to look at duty of care as responding to an emergency every five years or so. One can’t just dust off the crisis plan and respond.
“Executive leadership, they recognize that there's a much broader emphasis and a much more strategic focus on duty of care,” Isaac Bowman, senior manager at Deloitte, said during a session on the topic during the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit. “We've all known that employees are your most valuable asset. And the travel program is basically the logistics of moving those people, those valuable assets, all over the world.”
The pandemic, of course, made safety an everyday and everywhere concern affecting both travelers and other employees. Organizations realized their growing responsibilities and have studied, changed, and improved systems and practices.
They have tightened controls such as ensuring travel is approved by leaders, who may receive regular reports and have weekly meetings to stay apprised of travel changes and requirements. They’ve increasingly used traveler-tracking technology that not only allows the company to know where employees are but can apprise them of restrictions and other concerns.
“One of the changes we've noticed is in the past the lightly managed programs just simply relied on the TMC to take care of everything, and we're fine with that,” said Tony Peter, SVP of Strategic Partnerships at Travel Incorporated and a member of the session’s panel. “We’ve always had great interactive tools … but what we've seen now since the pandemic is the client at any level is really getting more active and accessing that data.”
Every employee, not just traveling ones
As the pandemic emptied corporate offices and turned spare bedrooms and dining tables into workplaces, the differences between employees who traveled and those who didn’t narrowed. At the same time, the definition of duty of care and who it covered expanded.
Just as organizations felt responsible to keep tabs on travelers and their locations, now they had remote workers with many of the same needs. Contacting an employee is no longer a simple matter of going to their cubicle or looking up their home address. Organizations had to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach.
“The core functions of what is inside a duty of care actually have much broader value to the organization than simply responding to natural disasters,” Bowman said. “Work is actually anywhere that the employee sits, and one day that could be in my home office or could be my backyard, it could be that I'm working in a coffee shop across the street, but I could just as easily be spending half of my year working in a vacation home” across the state, country, or globe.
Mental health and the work-life balance
The wider-screen view of duty of care extends well beyond the capability to send alerts to travelers or to extract them from abroad in the case of illness.
Now, the duty can extend into workers’ home offices and encompass mental and physical health. To take care of and preserve their work forces, organizations can assess and tend to their exercise, diet, and even spiritual needs. Outside the confines and controls of a company facility, the improper configuration of a home office – dining tables aren’t ergonomic – could be a risk management issue. With such a broad set of factors, duty of care extends beyond the travel management team to HR, security, operations, and more.
Research clearly shows the pandemic’s impact on mental health. Companies need to be cognizant of that and welcome the discussions about it.
“Duty of care has evolved and taken on a much larger meaning not just to involve travelers or people in the office, but also people working from home, and not just to discuss physical ailments and work injuries, but really to embrace mental health issues,” said Dr. William Hauptman, medical director pf Assistance at International SOS.
Information and buy-in
A frequent question from travelers involves whether they must do all their booking through their corporate travel management system. The common query raises issues involving education, information, and buy-in.
Travel managers generally prefer a closed system because it can allow them to better protect and advise travelers and help bring other departments such as security into the loop. But with travelers’ desire for flexibility and growing duty of care concerns they acknowledge they must have the capability to capture outside booking information, so they can contact travelers and keep them apprised.
Systems and employee education are essential.
“We can create a great policy for how to respond to every kind of contingency under the sun. But if we don't have processes that can implement that strategy, and we don't have data available to assess the strategy, the strategy itself won't be able to take off the ground,” Bowman said.
“It's great for the traveler to be given new direction, but they need to understand why and what else is involved in it in order for them to be really active, willing participants,” Peter said.
The Evolution of Duty of Care: How to Manage and Anticipate Risks session from SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit features panelists
Watch the session HERE
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