Almost everyone has a Smartphone, and every company in the travel industry worth their time has an app. It’s never been easier for the modern employee to whip out their phone, fire up a few apps and book their business trip flights, accommodation, car hire and other travel needs before they’ve finished their salmon and cream cheese breakfast bagel. Of course this kind of off-the-grid travel planning is usually against company travel policy, but it’s an all too frequent occurrence costing businesses a lot of money while losing control at the same time.
So what can be done to give employees the freedom they desire, while also giving businesses the control they need to ensure expenses are kept in check, employees are safe, and travel partnership agreements are honoured and maintained?
Key requirements of a travel compliance policy
The travel compliance policy is the key to balancing the needs of both the business and employee. Get it wrong and it can be damaging to staff morale and company profits; get it right and the consequences are reversed.
So what factors need to be considered when devising the travel compliance policy?
- Flexibility – While it’s important for companies to ensure employees use preferred travel partners, giving them autonomy to make some decisions based on personal taste and preferences is important for staff morale and empowerment.
- Clearly defined boundaries – Documentation outlining spending limits, reporting procedures, approval timing and any other requirements of travel as determined by the company should be clearly available to employees. It should be part of any induction for new employees, and staff should be told immediately when updates are made.
- Easy to understand – If there’s one way to ensure employees have no understanding of the company’s travel policy, make it long and difficult to understand. It should take no more than a few clearly articulated pages of rules and regulations to cover what’s required when travelling for business.
- Approval – While it was mentioned briefly above, getting the approval process right is worth going into more detail. Ensure staff understands when travel requests need to be submitted and who needs to approve them. The earlier travel is organised, the cheaper it will be for the company.
- Expense recording and reimbursement – Current online tools should have the capacity to document expenses easily, such as using your Smartphone camera to take photos of receipts. Employees need to know what expenses will and won’t be covered, and understand that expenses may take time to be reimbursed. However, it’s important to clearly define how long it will take, otherwise you will have angry staff demanding to know where their money is.
- Travel booking procedure – Modern online booking tools provide the perfect environment for companies to control the travel booking process. It ensures travel partners are used, approval processes are followed, expenses are recorded and accounted for, and reports are generated. Provide staff training opportunities to make certain the tool is used correctly.
What happens when the travel policy isn’t followed?
If the travel compliance policy is clearly defined, easy to understand, available to all staff, and relevant training has been provided, there is no excuse for employees to venture outside the parameters. Of course there may be exceptional circumstances when travel decisions are made that don’t fall under the scope of the travel compliance document, but these should be few and far between if the policy covers all reasonable bases.
When non-compliance is an issue, there are a number of steps that can be taken:
- Further training
- Additional levels of approval requirements
- Restricted travel privileges
Of course should these steps fail, written warnings and termination of employment are the final resorts. If you create a travel compliance policy that is fair and reasonable, and don’t enforce it business-wide, it has no relevance and no authority.
Getting the travel compliance policy right is a balancing act
There are clear benefits to creating and enforcing an easily understood travel compliance policy. Cost savings and efficient use of time are the obvious advantages to the company, however it must also be appealing to the employee as well. It has to reduce their workload, and provide the freedom to make personal decisions about their travel arrangements. When there is a clear understanding of what is required, and buy in from all stakeholders involved in the travel booking process, the business is more likely to retain high performing staff and soften the blow on the company’s bottom line.