Thursday, 19 September 2013

Business travel strain is higher for destinations very different from home

Anyone who's done a reasonable amount of business travel knows the strain it can put you under. According to a recent paper, that strain increases when the norms and beliefs of the travel destination are very different from those at home.

In the International Journal of Stress Management, Jase Ramsey details a newly developed instrument for measuring 'Institutional Distance' for business travellers. Institutional theory sees any environment as composed of three elements: the regulatory rules and laws that restrict behaviour; a set of normative traditions, habits and assumptions; and the cognitive categories that shape how things are perceived. Ramsey built these elements into a scale that probes  business travellers’ perception that their endpoint is different from home. Examples include differences between beliefs in profitability (cognitive) and willingness to put in overtime (normative).

After trialling and refining the scale, Ramsey took his new scale, combined with measures of travel and job strain, to Guarulhos International Airport to survey 457 business travellers, of whom just over half were Brazilian. Participants reported experiencing more strain for more institutionally distant endpoints. The travel strain measure, which covers air travel anxiety and anger together with airline (dis)trust, was most strongly related to perceptions of normative distance. This makes some sense as norms dictate whether to queue or crowd, banter with security officials or keep quiet, and so on. Meanwhile the job strain measure was more related to cognitive distance: this seems to describe the traveller's anxiety whether they are adequately equipped to understand the agendas and priorities of those they are meeting.

Two issues to note. Regulatory distance was actually associated with lower job strain, which was unpredicted and essentially unexplained. Additionally, by drawing all its data from the subjective judgments of  participants, the study is vulnerable to common method bias. For instance it may be that some travellers tend to over-estimate both perceptions of distance and of current stress. Nonetheless, this is strong initial work developing a scale that could be used  fruitfully to help us understand the psychological consequences of business travel. The hallmarks of a stressful situation are high stakes and demands that may exceed our resources to deal with them; I can't think of a better description of a three-stop hop to Singapore.

ResearchBlogging.orgJase R. Ramsey (2013). Institutional Distance: A Measurement Validation and Link to Job and International Business Travel Strain International Journal of Stress Management DOI: 10.1037/a0033253

Further reading:
DeFrank, R. S., Konopaske, R., & Ivancevich, J. M. (2000). Executive travel stress: Perils of the road warrior. Academy of Management Executive, 14, 58.


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