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Expatriates: Work Life Balance

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The two articles that I have chosen to analyse deal with travel stress among business people and their career options and aspirations.
“Executive travel stress: Perils of the road warrior” by Richard S DeFrank, Robert Konopaske, John M Ivancevich focuses on the concept of travel stress at the executive level, including the sources and the potential impact of stress before, during, and after travel. It also offers practical information for both organisations and individuals about how to prevent and deal with executive travel stress (DeFrank, Ivancevich & Konopaske, 2000). Managers have to travel nowadays more than ever before. Due to a fast globalisation process, executives have to be in several different places (i.e. countries, even continents) in a very small period of time. Michael Bonsignore, the CEO of Honeywell, explains that travel brings along not only negative factors such as sleep deprivation, time pressure and delays, unavoidable changes in eating habits but it has also advantages (DeFrank et al, 2000:58). “I learn a hell of a lot more doing this than sitting in my office reading historical information… Today we can’t be making decisions based on historical information because things are changing too fast” (DeFrank et al, 2000:58) said Michael Bonsignore. Apart this, travel represents a very important way for executive to learn new business techniques while travelling and even come up with new product ideas. According to a survey (DeFrank et al, 2000:59) taken in 1997, 193 million U.S. executive business travellers transform their business travel into holiday. However, business travel comprises more disadvantages than advantages. One are the most encountered problems are distraction, irritability, illness, tiredness and many others. These factors can lead to an emotional and physical change that severely disrupts an executive’s ability to perform effectively on the road, but also after returning to the office.
Travel stress is the perceptual, emotional, behavioural, and physical responses made by an individual to the various problems faced during one or more of these phases of travel (DeFrank et al, 2000:59). Executives have a frenetic and fast-paced lifestyle. For example, one manager could be on Monday in New York, on Tuesday in Los Angeles and travel to Europe on Friday (DeFrank et al, 2000:59). This kind of lifestyle put a lot of pressure on managers who is always on a runaway train. They do not have time to relax, spend time with their family or they cannot even plan to have a family due to the constant change. What is more, they to put aside their careers goals and ambitious because they fear that if they gave up travelling they might loose their jobs. A survey by Hyatt Hotels (DeFrank et al, 2000:59) indicates that a third would stop travelling if it did not hurt their careers and 52% would turn down a job offer if it involved too much travel. Travel is seen as a learning process that leads to individual growth. However, business travels are more complex and most of the time stressful and negative.
There are three types of travel stressors that can affect a business travel: pre-trip, trip, and post-trip stressors (DeFrank et al, 2000:60). There are also several factors that influence the psychological and physiological well-being of travelling executives: demographics, personality, job, organisational, home and family, and travel impedance.
First of all, pre-trip stressors (DeFrank et al, 2000:60) reflect the demanding and challenging tasks that must be solved before going on business travel. These are: trip planning, work arrangements, and home and family issues. It is true that, a successful business travel requires strategic and thorough planning. However, this process can be very stressful and challenging. One might think that all these tasks are taken care of by an assistant or travel staff. And that is true. Nevertheless, an executive still has to give his input on his own preferences regarding air travel, hotel, meeting dates, and flight times. Work arrangements can also add up to an executive pre- trip stress. While trying to find a subordinate to delegate his tasks and making sure that urgent business matters are being resolved, an executive will only fear a tremendous pressure. Family is another concern that executives have to cope with. According to a survey (DeFrank et al, 2000:61) , 75% of married travellers feel that it is difficult to be away from home for long periods.
Trip stressors include characteristics of the travel, travel logistics, health concerns, host culture issues, and job factors. The most stressful travel is the one that involve solving as many business tasks as possible in different countries and even continents. Of course, there is always the problem of flight delays or cancellations. In a survey (DeFrank et al, 2000:62) of 238 U.S. air travellers, 50% seen flight delays as a source of anxiety, and 30% reported delays at baggage claim as a cause of stress. Other factors of anxiety and stress were for 40% of business traveller’s anxiety during take-offs and landings, noise from passengers, crowded planes, turbulence, and uncomfortable seats. Furthermore, there are two major logistical issues (DeFrank et al, 2000:62) that executives face with upon their arrival at destination: the quality of the hotel and communication infrastructure. In a survey (DeFrank et al, 2000:62) made by Hilton Hotels Corporation and the National Sleep Foundation, the most majority of executives (43%) had hard times coping with noise from neighbours, while 23% could not get used to the unfamiliar environment. Another issue related to travel is the change in diet and sleep program which can lead to serious health problems. One out of four business travellers admitted loosing more sleep on a business trip now than two years ago. 55% out of 500 surveyed business travellers find sleep as the most important factor in being highly efficient, followed by exercise (25%) and a healthy diet (16%) (DeFrank et al, 2000:62). Executives who travel long distances in a short period of time loose many hours of sleep due to time change leaving not time to their bodies to adapt to this change. Moreover, they to achieve as much as possible in a business trip so they do not have time to exercise. Although many hotels are equipped with a gym, swimming pool, and sauna, after a long day of work with different cultures and in a different setting an executive might not have enough energy or motivation to hit the gym. Instead, he might prefer to get some sleep. And to make thing even worse, executives suffer massive changes in their diet. In order to show their respect, they must attend every social event and party where they have to eat and drink more alcohol than they would normally drink (DeFrank et al., 2000:63). These constant changes in lifestyle can cause stress and usually lead to psychical and physical breakdowns. The most difficult part of a business travel is meeting people from diverse cultures (DeFrank et al., 2010:63). An executive might feel overwhelmed by cross cultural experiences. An executive must be aware of the cultural differences while getting the deal closed. The post-trip stressors (DeFrank et al, 2000:63) include job issues and family concerns. Once an executive has returned home the work continues. First of all, he has only a few days to recover from the trip and get back to office where piles of papers and work are waiting for him. Secondly, there are family tasks that need to be done which will add up to the post-trip stress. The impact of travel stress is high both for executives and also for companies. An executive sent to negotiate and sign a contract has the fate of the company in his own hands. He is the one who can sign a deal or endanger the company’s future and profitability. One of the most frequently reported travel issue is jet lag. This occurs when multiple time zones are being crossed in a short period of time (DeFrank et al, 2000:64). Another crucial aspect is the psychological disorders such as irritability and excessive anxiety. Age and gender also play an important role on the level of stress. On the other hand, one study indicates that women are more apprehensive and more resistant to travel stress than men are (DeFrank et al, 2000:65). There are different strategies and tools that can be used at an organisational level and individual level in order to reduce and ultimately cope with travel stress (DeFrank et al, 2000:66). Firstly, an organisation must consider the importance level of a travel and see whether it is worth doing it. After it has been decided if a travel takes place a strategic and rigorous plan should be done. A support staff should take care of all tasks regarding flight tickets, accommodation, transportation, etc. Executive should be educated pre- trip about cultural differences, what is good to eat, what to do and not to do. What is more, someone should take care of an executive work schedule for when he comes back at office. Companies could offer concierge services that perform day-to-day tasks for a traveller (DeFrank et al, 2000:67). On the other hand, individuals should prepare themselves to overcome jet lags while working out, drinking plenty of fluids, cut out smoking and alcohol pre-trip, during it, and post- trip. They could also try to combine physical exercises with meditation to release and reduce stress (DeFrank et al, 2000:68).
“Frequent Business Travellers Across Europe: Career Aspirations and Implications” is a research work by Barbara Demel and Wolfgang Mayrhofer. It focuses on Austrian flexpatriates’ career aspirations and some of the consequences of frequent travelling on future careers, private life, and well-being (Demel & Mayrhofer, 2010:301). Flexpatriates are defined as business travellers that go on regular and numerous business trips abroad without relocating (Demel et al., 2010:301). As seen in the previous article, business trips have a great impact on an executive well-being, lifestyle, and performance and can lead to work-private life misbalances. Executives experience personal stress caused by the decision of following their career goals which might mean refusing a well-paid job that involves too much travelling or giving up their dreams and choose the well-paid job that requires flying around the world. Is there the possibility of finding a job that is both promising and with a moderate number of business trips? From a theoretical point of view, there is the concept of “new careers” (Demel et al., 2010:302) which involves a high level of responsibility for the course of own career without being restricted to organisational career paths. This paper builds its research on Derr’s career-success orientations (Demel et al., 2010:302) and on Greenhaus and Beutell’s theory (Demel et al., 2010:302) on work-life conflicts.
Careers are defined as a “sequence of positions occupied by a person during the course of a lifetime” (Demel et al., 2010:302). It also represents “the evolving sequence of work experience over time”. Career success is “the positive psychological or work-related outcomes or achievements one has accumulated as a result of one’s work experiences” (Demel et al., 2010:302). Career success orientations can be explained by using Derr’s approach which is related to Schein’s theory of career anchors (Demel et al., 2010:302). These are: autonomy and independence, security and stability, technical-functional competence, general managerial competence, entrepreneurial creativity, service or dedication to a cause, pure challenge and lifestyle (Demel et al., 2010:303). Derr’s theory of career success orientations aims at “describing a person’s subjective career self-identity about work and life”. It is compounded of: getting ahead, getting secure, getting free, getting high, and getting balance (Demel et al., 2010:303). The highly ranked on Derr’s and Laurent’s study is “getting ahead” (i.e. hierarchical advancement). Due to work-private life balance, “getting balanced” is seen as a central career success orientation among business people. As already mentioned, work- private life balance play a very important role in an executive’s life and it is often the main stress and conflicts source. According to Greenhaus and Beutell, there are three types of conflicts: time-based conflicts (scarcity of time), strain-based conflicts (fatigue, tension, anxiety, irritability), and behaviour-based conflicts (changing behaviour demanded by different roles in different situations) (Demel et al., 2010:303). The articles uses the results of a survey (Demel et al., 2010:304) conducted among Austrian managers who work in Western and Eastern Europe to reflect the career aspirations for these flexpatriates. The survey was conducted in German and face-to-face with 52 Austrian managers from which 20 were flexpatriates (16 males, 4 females) and 22 expatriates (15 males, 7 females). Half of them operate in Eastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia, etc.), and the other half in Western Europe (Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, etc.). A group of 6 males and 4 females was also interviewed as a comparison group. They match the same criteria with the exception that they live and work in Austria without often travelling abroad. According to this survey (Demel et al., 2010:305), the main career aspiration is related to the task they need to fulfil. For the Austrian managers is very important that their tasks are interesting, challenging, and innovative. They search for positions that require more strategically thinking rather than operational tasks. They also feel the need to make a difference through their work. What is more, the Austrian business people would also like to find a job that is different than the usual office jobs and that also involves travelling. “It needs to be something extraordinary that I am doing, I am not satisfied with average” said a male frequent flyer (31 years old) (Demel et al., 2010:305). The second important element is “hierarchical advancement and the desire to reach an executive position or become a member of the board” (Demel et al., 2010:305). This is followed by the need of balancing work life with private matters. A businessman (29) said that he would like to achieve a leading position “if it isn’t at the cost of my relationship…that is a big goal of mine. We always talk about work-life balance, reaching at least a part of it is definitely an ambition” (Demel et al., 2010:305). Further two more important career aspirations are represented by money and wealth and the exchange of thoughts or ideas with others (Demel et al., 2010:305). The major reasons for working as flexpatriates are the international character and excitement of tasks. It seems that for the Austrian managers (Demel et al., 2010:305) the most crucial motive is international mobility, followed by the need of getting abroad, enlarging one’s horizon, etc. There were some who described travelling as “a fundamental condition” (37, male), and others that saw it as “a necessary evil” (36, m) (Demel et al., 2010:305). A female flyer (36) stated that she could not see herself “in a nine-to-five job, sitting at the same desk everyday and having her toothbrush exactly in the same spot day in and out” (Demel et al., 2010:305). Another highly regarded motive for accepting jobs that require a lot of travelling was the chance to meet different people from various cultures. However, there is a common desire encountered among the interviewees was to have Austria as their home base. “I never wanted to leave Vienna, but I love travelling and I enjoy different cultures and…this is great, to still be able to live here and complete tasks from work through travelling” said a female flyer (36) (Demel et al., 2010:305). Their goals coincide with the motives for travelling abroad. The primary goal is the learning and gaining experience process, followed by making contacts abroad, then reaching a leadership position, and also enjoying work while travelling. When it comes to their future careers, 85% of all flexpatriates expect to see their travelling paying off, while more than a quarter also indicates negative career consequences (Demel et al., 2010:306). The positive consequences are grouped in three most important categories: acquired know-how, make of new contacts abroad, and demonstrated abilities of flexibility, openness, and mobility gained through travelling. As for the negative aspects, Austrian managers in Western Europe have illustrated the workload and time loss while being away (Demel et al., 2010:306). This article concentrates on the negative consequences seen by Austrian managers that work in Eastern Europe. First of all, managers complained of the syndrome of “getting stuck” in Eastern Europe. There are not many people who are willing to do to Eastern Europe and once there is someone who once went and became an expert in this region, there might be the “danger” of one being assigned jobs only in Eastern Europe. A manager (40, m) working in Romania explained that “you need to be careful when operating in Eastern Europe in order not to be labelled a CEE specialist; otherwise this reputation will restrict you future career developments in this area” (Demel et al., 2010:306). On the other hand, there is the bad CEE reputation that might keep investors away due to the lower quality of life than in Western Europe and the level of maturity of the market. However, the “virgin” Eastern European market makes out of it the perfect place for managers to learn and to develop their careers. The last part of the article deals with implications and contributions for the Human Resources departments.
I have chosen these two interrelated articles for their increasing important and relevance in the business field and also because of personal reasons. First of all, as the two articles mentioned, the subject of travel stress and its implications on a traveller’s work and private life as well as future careers opportunities has not been given too much importance neither in empirical or theoretical studies nor in Human Resources departments. What is more, by neglecting a very important issue that influence an executive performance while on, during, and after the trip which ultimately will affect the entire performance of the company where one is working at. Secondly, and most importantly for me, I have my personal interest in this subject also as an individual who travels for pleasure but also for my future business career. I think that these two research papers could be also very interesting and helpful for a person who simply likes to travel and wants to know what travel stress is, its implication, and how to deal and cope with it. On the other hand, I consider that every business student should make of these articles a “compulsory” reading because we live in a globalised world and almost every international job requires business travels. I have been always fascinated by a job who would involve travelling across the world. Maybe it is because of the American films that illustrate a major CEO in his huge, full of window office that is always on the road flying at first class or with private airplanes, having his own chauffer and having everything done by a personal assistant. Of course, my perspective has altered in the course of time and I have become more realistic about what business travel is and involves, but there were still some aspects missing. I still want to find a job that requires travelling to different countries to sign up contracts or work there for a couple of months. However, I would like to find that perfect combination of work, as stated in the second article (the “new careers”), where I can decide when and how long to travel and at the same time pursue my careers aspirations and at the same time make a difference and be innovative while keeping a work-life balance. I know that this might sound and be unrealistic, but at least, after reading the second article, now I know that I am not the only one who seeks this kind of dream job. It gave me the feeling that I can relate to someone. I could find myself in the words of an Austrian female flyer who said that she could not see herself in a “nine-to-five job, sitting at the same desk everyday.” I have also considered the same positive and negative aspects of business travel that were commented in the articles. The most important would be for me: gather knowledge, know-how, and dynamism, internationality, broaden my cultural and informational knowledge. And as for the negative aspects probably the constant change of time zones and hotel rooms, long flight hours, changes in my diet, excessive tiredness, and also the feeling of not knowing anymore where one belongs to. I have personally experienced some travel stress, especially pre-trip stress. For example, I had to apply for the U.S. visa and while gathering all the documentation needed, I realised that some papers were missing. The problem was that a part of them were with me in Vienna, while some others back home, in Romania. I had to explain my parents which papers I need, where they were, get them translated and then sent by express delivery. What is more, while completing online applications I had to give my address where to receive the passport with the visa and other papers. The other issues was that I had only 3 weeks before finishing my classes and by the time I would have received the papers I might have been already at home. Therefore, I experienced stress and confusion while switching between two address and always making time calculations.
These two articles combined are a very well executed complementary work. The first one deals the travel stress suffered by executives and its impact on their work and private life; whereas the second focuses on the careers goals of business travellers and their reasons for choosing jobs that involve travelling. If read together, it gives the impression of a complete, empirical work, taking the reader from a general view on business travel (the first article) to a more detailed and focused research. Both articles are written in a clear and structured way and follow a logical sequence. It is very easy for the reader to read through the articles and understand it. The goal and focus of the articles are clearly stated at the beginning and the use of subtitles makes it easier to be followed. The first article is a focused and complex work. It exposes all the aspects and factors of travel stress in a very understandable theoretical way, while also giving valuable practical information for both an individual and organisation. For the reader is very easy to follow the logical line: first they receive the theory with problems and negative effects, then the implications, and then how these can be changed and avoided and also how to do it. As for the second article, it is more an empirical work with practical relevance. What I like at the second article is that they use the theory and concepts based on a survey’s results. As both articles mention, the subject of business travel has not been treated at something of great importance. It has only now begun to increase in popularity and companies and specialists are conducting surveys and trying to deal with it. The first article explains very well how organisations and individuals can deal and reduce travel stress. However, all the surveys were conducted only in the U.S. and with U.S. managers which narrows the view on travel stress among all business people around the world. The second article mentions briefly at the end some implications for HR and individuals but it is too vague. What is more, there is also the question of the accuracy of the survey regarded to the managers interviewed (16 males, 4 females). All in all, I think that these two papers provide the reader with valuable information about business travel and also practical relevance to the subject.

REFERENCES

DeFrank, R., Ivancevich. J and Konopaske, R. 2000. Executive Travel Stress: Perils of the Road Warrior. The Academy of Management Executive 1993-2005, 14(2): 58-71. Academy of Management

Demel, B. and Mayrhofer, W. 2010. Frequent business travellers across Europe: Career aspirations and implications. Thunderbird International Business Review, 52(4): 301–311. Wiley Periodicals, Inc., DOI: 10.1002/tie.20352

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