How does business travel impact mental health?


Half of business travellers acknowledge that their mood suffers while travelling for business.


A new study commissioned by The International SOS Foundation interviewed travellers to better understand the behavioural changes directly related to business trips.  It reveals that depression, followed by stress and anxiety, are the most common issues.


Increased working hours while travelling, due to accessibility of tech while abroad, was the most significant factor leading to heightened stress levels.  

Furthermore, the study uncovers that many organisations are not set up to deal with the issues at large: 61% of organisations do not have resources for mental health support and 60% do not have a wellness program in place at their company.


De-mystifying mental health issues and bringing them to the forefront of discussions inside and outside of the workplace is a growing trend. An increasing number of regions and countries are starting to recognise that it is an integral part of an employer’s Duty of Care obligations, and are enacting regulations to confirm this. In many sectors mental health is cited as the biggest cost of spend on healthcare.


Key considerations for those supporting a mobile workforce:

  • If you do not have a wellbeing program or policy in place – take the time to review this now and factor mental health support into it as a priority.

  • Consider the different needs for those who are regularly travelling for business, the traditional ‘road warrior’ and those who take assignments.

  • Business traveller issues can be circumnavigated with access to appropriate support – access to those trained to deal with the psychological fallout of travel or, in the worst case scenario, exposure to traumatic events like major road accidents, or even terror events.

  • International assignees – even the most seasoned – can be put under huge amounts of stress due to their remoteness from their support system, ability to talk to new colleagues, or even the sheer newness of their environment. Consider pre-checks to assess appropriateness of an environment for an assignee, or uncover pre-existing mental health issues that could be aggravated in a new environment.

The case below outlines a real life example of the issue faced by a seasoned international assignee, and how their organisation stepped up to support them.


An assignment in Kazakhstan

David, who is familiar with international travel working for a large energy company, begins a new assignment in Kazakhstan. Originally from the UK, he embarks on what he can only assume is another business trip. This assignment, however, is different. The work environment is fragmented with a new management structure and no familiar colleagues on site. With isolation creeping over David, he begins to worry…

Only two weeks later, the head office receives a call from the manager in Kazakhstan with concern for David’s erratic and anxious behaviour. With no history of mental health issues, explaining his anxiety and erratic actions is difficult. Unfamiliar with how to diagnose an episode or recommend what steps to take, the team in Kazakhstan rely on the head office for immediate advice.

With the sole concern of ensuring David’s wellbeing, head office contacts International SOS for advice. Following assessment of the situation International SOS recommends offering a telephone psychological consultation. After suggesting this to David, he resisted immediately with concerns of divulging any medical information to his company. After ensuring that the consultation would be done by a third party organisation that would keep his information confidential, David agreed.

After an initial telephone assessment, the consultant could clearly see that David’s new environment was the root cause of his erratic behaviour and the recommendation was to send him back to the UK. Leaving Kazakhstan with a non-medical escort was the preferred plan for David.

In what should have been a routine assignment, it very quickly escalated into a judgment call that the organisation had little to no experience with prior. This easily highlights the importance of having a wellbeing programme in place which can help their people be successful and productive while travelling.


For more information on our Emotional Support services, click here.

To download a copy of the paper entitled, Keeping International Business Travellers Healthy, Happy and Engaged at Home and Away, click here.  



Authored by: Dr Ryan Copeland Regional Medical Director International SOS

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