Managing the Growing Ranks of the Millennial Business Traveler

As casual travelers stroll through the airport, groggy and searching for the closest coffee shop, another breed passes them by — the suit-clad figure, smartphone and venti latte in one hand, compact suitcase in the other.

Who is this elusive figure? The mature, C-suite business traveler.

Or so it was. Nowadays, that suited-up executive is more likely to be a different kind of business traveler: the Millennial.

In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported Millennials surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Millennials are entering the workforce in droves, and that trend is set to continue:  Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the workforce population by 2025.

A rapidly changing workforce dynamic

As Millennials continue to enter the workforce, traditional organizational culture, structure and business objectives will be forced to evolve with the rapidly changing face of the workplace professional. This leaves many HR professionals to wonder how they’ll manage this new breed of business traveler.

Millennials have different wants and expectations than the legions of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who came before them, some of which can leave businesses vulnerable to risk. With hyper-connected business travelers roaming the globe, a weekend visiting a client can quickly turn into a social affair with strangers after a few simple taps on a smartphone.

As the generation that freely mixes work and play, Millennials can sometimes lack clear boundaries when it comes to business travel. As a consequence, it falls to the employer to ensure factors like lack of experience and easy access to technology don’t create risky situations.

To address the unique challenges accompanying the Millennial business traveler, focus on these three key issues to ensure a successful takeoff and landing:

1. Establish a clear personal/professional divide

Previous generations of business travelers abided by their moniker: Fly in for a meeting, fly out in time for dinner at home.

Millennials, however, are more likely to mix business and pleasure: 62 percent of 18-30 year olds have extended a business trip into a vacation. This merging of the professional with the personal life carries greater risks for employers, who are tasked with delineating where work responsibilities begin and end.

While it may be acceptable to meet up with strangers at a bar on a personal trip, employers must make it clear to Millennials that different standards exist during work trips.

To avoid issues before they arise, it’s important to set clear rules and explicitly advise new business travelers on the do’s and don’ts of professional travel. Millennials may think they’re entitled to “clock out” after work hours, but it is essential to convey their actions don’t exist in a vacuum. Anything they do on a business trip is a representation of their company as well as themselves.

With 25 percent of current employees admitting to binge drinking on business trips, HR managers should set clear personal and professional guidelines for their employees in order to prevent dangerous habits before they start.

2. Harnessing technology for good

It’s no secret that a Millennial’s favorite companion is often his or her phone. The constant presence of technology may create risky situations for Millennials and their employers, but there is also vast potential for the use of personal technology to be harnessed for a business’s benefit.

Three-quarters (75 percent) of business travelers said they use their smartphones and tablets during business travel, and Millennials are even likelier to bring along their mobile devices on a work trip. HR departments can take advantage of this by minimizing planning headaches during business travel: Encourage employees to utilize apps like —

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  • Expensify, which tracks spending;
  • XE Currency, which provides the latest currency conversion rates;
  • Business Behavior, which advises on international business etiquette; and,
  • The ever-popular Skype, which allows employees to make inexpensive international phone calls.

In addition, consider whether or not there are HR policies in place for technology-savvy travelers. As technology often advances long before policy follows, it is crucial to create modern guidelines for travelers.

What is the company’s policy on sharing-economy apps like Uber or Airbnb? Are there guidelines for employees after work hours have ceased? Having a discussion with new hires can solve issues before they pose a risk for your company.

3. Reward Millennial business travelers

To the uninitiated, business travel is a luxury. Freed from office responsibilities, employees travel on their business’s dime, expensing their every wish as they jet from exotic locale to locale.

Those who travel frequently for business, however, know better. Often, business travel means cramped flights, days spent in beige conference rooms and a steady diet of fast food.

Of course, business travel does have its perks – and as an HR professional, you have the resources to broadcast work travel benefits to Millennial employees.

Encourage them to sign up for frequent flyer programs that reward individual travel. Customer loyalty programs don’t end when employees land; traveling employees can take advantage of hotel and rental car loyalty programs too. The more points and miles employees rack up, the more beneficial business travel is to Millennials.

Transitioning into seasoned business travelers

These perks may not be new, but Millennial business travelers, more than any other generation, expect to receive the personal benefits of travel.

A whopping 83 percent of business travelers feel personally entitled to travel reward points, with Millennial business travelers at even higher numbers. Generosity with travel reward programs is one way for HR professionals to encourage safe, appropriate, and professional travel among Millennials.

As the skies, railways, and freeways continue to fill with Millennial business travelers, risk and reward for businesses continues to expand. With proper HR regulations in place, however, the next generation of business travelers will soon transform into the confident, successful business travelers we know so well – fast stride, venti latte and all.

Michael J. Kelly founded On Call International in 1995 with the vision of creating a global medical, travel and security assistance company that would deliver the highest quality services for business, leisure and academic travelers, anywhere in the world, 24/7, 365 days a year. Prior to this venture, Mike was president of International SOS Assistance, as well as the chief executive officer of International Medical Care Ltd., a company that created and managed primary care clinics in Beijing and Moscow. Early in his career, he held senior positions in marketing and sales at American Express, where he played an integral role in managing the introduction of several new products, including the American Express Gift Cheque and the Travelers “Cheques for Two” product, along with enhancements to the company's Platinum and Gold Cards. 

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