Personal account: The impact of business travel on mental health and how it could be avoided

By Matt Holman, Head of Traveller Experience

Our Head of Traveller Experience, Matt Holman, shares his very frank and personal account of how business travel impacted his mental health.

In 20 years of travelling nobody ever asked how I felt: A blog about the impact of business travel on one man’s mental health and how it could’ve easily been avoided:

“I spent almost 20 years as a global business traveller. In 1997 it was fun, in 2016 mental health challenges made me hit the floor.

Travel is a wonderful thing, the chance to see the world, the chance to experience new cultures, and the chance to meet new and amazing people on every trip. From the outside looking in, this is often seen as glamorous, luxurious and only for those who hold positions of seniority. How far from the truth can this actually be?

For many years I used travel as a great opportunity to learn more about the world, it was my job to meet people, it was my job to be there, in person at the meeting. Travel is part of the world of work and the numbers are growing every year.

As the years progressed things did get more challenging. I can summarise some of these as follows:

  • Too many early-morning starts and late-evening finishes: I would typically get up at 3am for a 6am flight, often not returning home until 10pm/11pm from my often 2-hour meeting. With the expectation to be back online the next day.

  • High frequency of trips: Some months I would be on the road two or three times a week.

  • Long-haul travel: I used to fly overnight from the US and then head straight to the office from the airport.

  • Poor self-care: My schedule and environment meant late nights, free bars, and an expectation to network with clients, colleagues and create new opportunities well beyond my normal work hours. Always switched on: Running a global team with employees in Asia, Europe and North America meant I was always on and never able to switch off.

  • Impact on family: My family became so used to me being away, they would often not want to catch up when I called home and did not stay in contact frequently. I felt more like an outsider than one of the family.

And then it all went wrong. The impact of everything came to a head in January 2016, when I was let go from a job whilst travelling in the US. I was experiencing a mental crisis. It was too late to change the outcome. I never had anyone check-in with me, the human being, either before I travelled, or after I returned from my trip. Like many, I was expected to get on with the ‘business’ and only asked how successful my trip had been. If someone had spotted the signs of challenges, stepped in and given better support I honestly think some of the trauma could have been avoided.

My story is not unique. I am happy to share my experiences to enable greater awareness, education and support in future. If through Smarter working we are able to influence this discussion, then we are moving forward in the right direction.

We genuinely need to improve how we look at supporting traveller better in the future. We need to evolve the understanding of the challenges, we need to provide solutions that are beneficial for positive mental wellbeing, and we need to acknowledge the long-term impact of frequent travelling. We all have a role to play in this discussion, from the traveller, corporation, travel management provider and the suppliers’ point of view."

At Capita Travel and Events our experts, like Matt, are helping us with our Smarter working approach to create positive and thriving changes for traveller experience and wellbeing.