Heightened security threats, civil unrest and geopolitical instability set to be the top disruptors to the mobile workforce in 2020

Life as a mobile worker can bring unforeseen stress and strain. When on a business trip or deployed in a foreign country, people may be exposed to unexpected situations, minor or severe. Distance from loved ones, new environments or a serious accident can all trigger stress and anxiety.

Looking ahead into next year, medical and travel security risk services company International SOS has outlined its risks forecast for 2020 and released the latest edition of its ‘Travel Risk Map’. These are accompanied by its ‘Business Resilience Trend Watch’ survey, of over 1,300 business travel decision-makers run in partnership with Ipsos MORI, which has revealed critical “Grey Zones of Risk” and “missed opportunities in harnessing technological innovations” to protect the workforce.

While we may feel generally safe when travelling, International SOS has brought together a group of representative experts of all health, security, and safety fields relevant to the risks of travelling and work abroad to form the Travel Management (TRM) Council, who together have formulated a list of the 10 top health and security risks that organisations should be prioritising for the year ahead.

These comprise:

  • Risks borne from geopolitical shifts will be the most important mobility challenge for businesses;
  • Mental health issues will increase in importance;
  • Physical health: organisations will be more proactive in safeguarding physical health;
  • Cybercrime is likely to grow and be an increasing risk to security;
  • Climate change will exacerbate the occurrence of environmental disruptions;
  • Infectious disease outbreaks from established and newly emerging pathogens will increase due to multiple factors, including climate change, increasing urbanisation, diminishing vaccination coverage and security instability;
  • ‘Bleisure’ travel: the debate about whether an employer is responsible to cover bleisure as part of employee Duty of Care will amplify;
  • Millennials and Generation Z entering the workplace with different preferences, expectations and attitudes to risk, will continue to challenge businesses to evolve their risk strategies;
  • High profile Duty of Care legal cases will increase;
  • Start-ups and SMEs that are under-resourced and inexperienced will struggle to meet Duty of Care obligations.

Alongside these observations, results from the ‘Business Resilience Trends Watch’ reveal the top reasons business travel managers expect to change itineraries in 2020, with more than half (51%) believe that health and security risks increased in the past year and a slightly smaller number (47%) anticipate risks will rise in the coming year.

The biggest risk was identified as Security threats (68%) – up 23pp on the past year, ahead of civil unrest (52%) – up 14pp on the past year; geopolitical unrest (52%) – up 20pp on the past year; and natural disasters (51%) – up 15pp on the past year.

Along with these top disruptors, the results show that organisations are predicting major increases in the likelihood of having to modify traveller itineraries due to a range of other factors, including : epidemics (31%) – predicted to be up 19pp compared with actual impact in 2018; infectious diseases (35%) – predicted to be up 17pp compared with actual impact in 2018; and detention and kidnapping (29%) – predicted to be up 17pp compared with actual impact in 2018.

“Instability, unpredictability, rapid change and escalation are the key characteristics of many incidents in our modern world,” warns David Johnson, chief executive officer, Security Services, while Doug Quarry, MD, International SOS warns that “the threats facing organisations and their workforces are impacting established and emerging economies alike”.

With a GBTA study predicting that over USD1.7 trillion is expected to be invested by organisations by 2022, without taking into account human capital and productivity impacts of travel disruption, it’s clearly important (or should that be essential) that organisations get ahead of whatever potential disruption they can.

International SOS warns that emerging traveller habits, both domestically and internationally, and diversification of the workforce are creating “Grey Zones of Risk”. As employers do not align travel policies with new potential risk factors, and people are choosing not to act within policy if it restricts the use of their preferred mode of transport or accommodation.

The company notes that surprisingly, less than a third of organisations include cyber security in their travel policies. “This could potentially open organisations up to litigation and reputational damage if they are not adhering to their Duty of Care, as well as negative consequences for employees and business,” it warns.

Similarly, it highlights that just 11% included shared economy services in their travel policy, only 26% of organisations include considerations for female travellers in their travel policy, less than a third (31%) cover cyber security, only one in ten (11%) include considerations for LGBTQ+ travellers, mental health issues are included in mere 15% of travel policies, considerations for travellers with disabilities are covered by only 12%, and bleisure travel is covered in 22% of policies.

International SOS identifies missed opportunities in harnessing technological innovations to protect the workforce. “Organisations invest thousands in new tech each year, but very little seems to go on the safety of their people, despite new technology providing excellent solutions to protect employees,” says Mr Johnson.

From the use of AI in situational intelligence, to e-learning courses and traveller tracking, strides in keeping people safe have been made thanks to new technology, he identifies, but year on year, business travel managers continue to struggle with educating employees about travel risks (53%), communicating with employees during a crisis (47%), confirming with employees that they have read pre-travel information (45%), tracking employee travel (42%) and managing a crisis (40%), according to the survey findings.

One of the big wellbeing questions remains: How can we look after our travellers without expanding the cost? At a time when the International Labour Organisation (ILO) considers work-related stress as a “21st-century disease”, emotional support is often considered to be the missing link in a comprehensive Travel Risk Mitigation programme.

This subject will be discussed at the forthcoming CTC-CAPA Corporate Travel Gathering – Australia, taking place on 25-26 November at the Hyatt Regency Sydney hotel adjacent to Darling Harbour in Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). The panel session, which will include representatives of International SOS, American Express Global Business Travel, AMP, CWT and Egencia, will question how organisations can ensure the mental wellbeing of its travellers, identify warning signs and highlight case studies of best practise from around the world?

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