Frequent Criers

airplane_sadIf you’ve advanced in your professional status and dread that upcoming trip to Cincinnati, you’re not alone.

According to a new report, summarized in a fun infographic at the HBR Blog, senior executives who spend a lot of time on planes and in hotel rooms tend to find travel a lot more burdensome than do support staff.

The authors, from the company Carlson Wagonlit Travel and the business school HEC Paris, surveyed more than 7,000 corporate travelers and examined travel from the perspective of six different ranks—from support staff to the C-suite—with an eye on 33 different stressors, including immigration and customs, flight seating, fear of flying, hotel quality and expense reports.

Many of the results were intriguing. For example, “the most senior executives are much less stressed by flying in economy-class seats”; it is lower-ranking managers who are bothered. The authors suggest this is because GMs and CEOs often set travel policies and “therefore wear their economy-class membership as an emblem of shareholder value.” Another finding: Women are much more stressed than men by travel across nearly all measurements. A third insight: Post-trip expense reports cause a lot of stress for vice presidents, very little for CEOs.

Peter Drucker would have appreciated the high degree of stress being generated overall by business travel. Although he jetted around the world a lot, he was nevertheless a skeptic of frequent travel, noting that executives did just fine before airplanes became an ordinary, everyday part of life starting in the 1950s. Then suddenly, “the advantage of direct access, face to face, to associates, partners and customers in faraway places so greatly outweighed the fatigue and cost of air travel as to encourage gross overindulgence in it,” Drucker wrote in The Changing World of the Executive.

All the while, new forms of communication were actually making physical presence less important. “Executives will therefore have to think more carefully about what to use travel for,” Drucker advised.

In The Effective Executive, he took even sharper aim at business trips, pointing out that travel easily squanders time, a top manager’s most precious resource. “The jet plane is indeed overrated as a management tool,” Drucker wrote. “A great many trips have to be made; but a junior can make most of them. Travel is still a novelty for him. He is still young enough to get a good night’s rest in hotel beds.” For that reason, travel was a leading candidate for pruning, an example of the work of executives “that can easily be done by others, and therefore should be done by others.”

Does business travel cause you stress? If so, what bothers you most about it?