What takes priority:

What takes priority: A business trip or a family event? The answer may surprise you.

The Life of a Road Warrior

H ave you ever lost your luggage while on a business trip? Then youre not alone. In fact, 64% of business travelers shared this experience. A discouraging 77% had their flights canceled, while 27% had weathered in-flight emergencies.

These are the results of a new study by Hyatt Hotels and Resorts of veteran road warriors—500 business executives whose average travel in 1996 ranged from three overnight business trips to more than 50 days. The study found that despite such inconveniences executives generally liked travel and considered it important for their careers, but they also worried about the families they left behind and about the work piling up on their desks in their absence.

Work vs. family
Employers might be intrigued to learn that when executives are forced to make a choice between work-related excursions and important personal events, the tendency is to put careers first. In fact, 82% of those surveyed had missed family events while away on business, and 45% professed a willingness to miss a major holiday, a wedding anniversary, caring for a sick spouse or attending a funeral in order to make a business trip. Four out of five executives with children under age 18 said they would travel during a childs birthday or illness. "Many executives think events such as Christmas and birthdays will come around again next year, so theyll have other chances to celebrate," according to Mark Walker, a psychiatrist affiliated with Northwestern University Medical School.

The perceived appropriate length of a trip varied depending on the executives personal status, the study found. Married travelers found that a trip began to impinge on their personal lives once it lasted longer than five days. Those with children under the age of 7 drew the line at a four-day trip, while single travelers felt they could be away as long as six days. Business travel doesnt seem to harm marriages, however. While 78% believed their absences had no effect on their unions, another 12% thought they had helped—and that number jumped to 22% among those who were on the road more than 25 times a year.

The logistics of frequent travel can be much more stressful for married female executives, the survey found. Although 95% of married men expected their spouses to manage the home and family while they were away, 20% of the traveling female executives asked a friend, family member or hired help to assume this responsibility when they were on the road.

Travelers Tip

The best time to secure a hotel reservation is between 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Thats when many hotels begin to cancel reservations for guests who havent arrived and hadnt guaranteed their late arrivals with credit cards, according to the newsletter Travel Smart . Even places that were fully booked in the morning may well have openings if you try them during the late afternoon.

Cant We Stay One More Day?
For most voyagers, the most daunting part of the trip was coming home. Executives said it took nearly two and a half days to catch up with work at the office and just over two days to catch up at home. But the trips themselves were also grueling. Over three-quarters of executives worked longer hours on the road than in the office—an average of 15 hours a day. While most clearly accepted those circumstances, a few were fed up. One-third said they would give up their travel responsibilities immediately if it wouldnt harm their careers, while 52% would turn down another job that involved heavy travel.

What Message? What Fax?
Does technology make life easier on the road? Half of the business travelers believed it did, but 23% said rapid communications only made work more stressful. A total of 28% thought new technologies had made them less productive. But nearly everybodys plugged into information options: 71% used voice mail while traveling, 62% carried laptops and 45% had cellular phones. Travelers received an average of 12 e-mail messages and 10 voice mail messages a day.

The Moral
Although some professionals dont care for the road, business travel is accepted as a normal part of the job, even though it takes a toll on family life. Superiors who understand that their road warriors are stressed but willing will have a better chance of getting the most productivity out of their travel budgets.

—Anita Dennis, a Journal contributing editor.

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