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For Employees, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

For a word that has six syllables and a hyphen, “employee-centricity” isn’t so complicated. Sure, it’s a mouthful. But in practice, employee-centric organizations get a few simple things right.

They encourage communication and the free flow of ideas. They create guidelines, not restrictions. They don’t over-design processes. They solicit feedback, prioritize adaptability, and give individuals the ability to make decisions that most directly affect them. In other words, these organizations provide employees with the right balance of independence and support.

That’s critical for employees’ well being and productivity. Studies have found that personal autonomy at work correlates to lower turnover, higher engagement, and increased job satisfaction, while micromanagement is a causal factor behind low morale, high staff turnover, and reduced productivity.

Employee-centricity is both a description of an organization’s overall culture, and a way of designing specific business processes, such as travel and expense management.

How do you make a pain point less painful?

At first glance, T&E might not seem like a defining aspect of workplace experience. But company culture doesn’t stop at the office doors. A company’s travel policy can ensure that employees are comfortable, safe, and productive on their trips, but it can also have the opposite effect. Travel is often a major pain point – even a source of resentment for employees who are forced to wade through red tape and/or experience discomfort on the road.  

This challenge was the central theme of a panel discussion at last week’s Business Travel Show in London. Rocketrip’s CEO, Dan Ruch, was joined on the panel by representatives from the largest corporate travel and expense solution (Concur), the most frequently expensed travel vendor (Uber), and a global organization with an extensive employee travel program (Eurasia Group, a Rocketrip client). Together, they tried to answer the question, “what do business travelers want?”

Travel management is trying to answer a trick question.

It’s a seemingly straightforward question. Business travelers want choice, convenience, comfort. But the question becomes a little more difficult (OK, a lot more difficult) when you also try to account for what business travelers’ companies want: cost control, policy compliance, comprehensive spend reporting. Employees have more options than ever for how to book and how much to spend, which means that employers have more trouble than ever when it comes influencing travel decisions.

Twenty years ago, employees more or less were told by corporate travel agents what fights, hotels, and rental cars they could take. Ten years ago, things had progressed to the point where employees could select their own options from a list of approved options listed in their corporate booking tool. Today, employees can go outside official channels and book their trip with just a few taps on a smartphone.

This fragmented, self-service model presents some obvious difficulties for travel management. But it also represents a massive opportunity for trip personalization. If you start from the premise that the best way to optimize traveler satisfaction is to allow individual travelers the freedom to act on their preferences, then the question changes from “how can we control traveling employees?” to “how can we empower traveling employees?”

That might sound a bit idealistic, but increasingly it’s an accurate description of how finance, procurement, and travel managers approach the challenge. Technology helps. Concur TripLink gives companies visibility into their employees’ out of channel bookings; Uber and Airbnb have responded to the need of corporate clients by creating systems for centralized billing and reporting; Rocketrip has built integrations that promote cost control and policy compliance across all booking channels.

In travel management as in other parts of a business’ operations, employee-centricity isn’t a one size fits all approach. “What do business travelers want?” turns out to be a trick question. Business travelers simply want what they want, and increasingly, their companies can give them exactly that.

Creative Commons image courtesy of John Walker on Flickr

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