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Decisions – Leisure – Work and perk

Maintaining a work-life balance is difficult these days. And while take-home pay is among the most attractive aspect in recruiting staff, salary alone is no longer incentive enough. To differentiate themselves as employers, companies need to consider the total work-life balance they provide for their employees.

This can, of course, mean many things in different contexts, but the basic ingredient is the employer’s ability to provide some form of flexibility in working. For a company’s business travellers, the work-life balance can mean setting a travel policy that is at odds with the kind of cost-cutting, ‘fly economy’ travel policy that seems to exist in so many of today’s corporations.

For example, a company might consider allowing a business traveller to do more than merely jet in to a major city, hold a meeting and jet out. It means allowing the executive to combine a few days’ holiday with their company business, staying on at the company’s expense in the same accommodation they have booked as part of their corporate travel. It probably won’t mean the company standing them opera tickets at La Scala or the Met, but it may well mean allowing someone on a trip to be accompanied by their significant other.

However, as Keith Mullineux, European travel manager for General Electric observes, companies such as GE that pride themselves on running a prudent and frugal ship are intrinsically opposed to the idea of giving their executives freebies. “We do not pay for videos rented by our executives to entertain themselves in their hotel rooms. We don’t pay golf club fees if they fancy a round between meetings and we try to winkle out anything that might be seen as subsidising what people should be paying for themselves. But if someone has to travel, then it is much better for GE to have a happy traveller,” he says.

Mullineux cites the following example to illustrate what this might mean. A GE executive, for example, is about to go on a business trip that might cost £1,500 on business class departing on Tuesday and returning on Thursday. Being an astute and well-coached GE executive, he thinks laterally and peruses the schedules a bit further. He finds that if he extends his travel to Sunday, he will be treated by the airline as a leisure traveller who needs to be woo’d, and so the price drops by £600. Under those circumstances, GE would happily consider funding the traveller’s extended stay, including picking up his hotel bill, provided the company is quids-in when everything is tallied.

Similarly, if an executive is flying to the US and wants to be accompanied by a spouse, picking up the tab for the additional airfare himself, GE’s travel managers have no problem with that. “In the US, a room is a room, and it doesn’t cost you any more to have two in it, so that is not an issue for us,” Mullineux says. In general, though, in his experience, the desire to extend trips for holiday purposes tends to emanate from younger executives. “Older people just want to get home to the family as fast as possible. Younger executives are more adventurous and we will bend a little in this to keep them happy,” he comments.

Roger Peters, travel manager for the defence and electronics company Thales, points out that any company that is project-oriented, as Thales is, has to be accommodating to its executives when it comes to travel. “We can have executives who are seconded to a project in another country or region for three to six months at a time. Under those circumstances, we are happy for them to be accompanied by a spouse. We’ll pay for some of the additional hotel and travel costs, depending, of course, on the length of time of the project,” he comments.

However, that is where Thales draws the line. A work-life balance is a good thing, Peters says, but executives can get that from their ordinary day-to-day life with the company. “We offer reasonable holidays and flexible working, but we run a tight ship on normal business travel.”

Pauline Sneider, director of account management for North Europe at Carlson Wagonlit, points out that companies have to be particularly careful about getting the tax accounting right when it comes to extending travel perks to executives. “It is so easy for executives to start running up benefit in kind taxation liabilities without really realising they are doing it,” she says. For example, the Inland Revenue only allows £5 on drinks in any 24-hour period as a legitimate expense. Anything more is a benefit-in-kind,” she says.

Similarly, a spouse accompanying an executive and being paid for by the company would, in most circumstances, create a benefit-in-kind charge. “The simplest approach for companies that want to extend these kinds of facilities to their staff is to let the staff pay for things themselves,” she concludes. ?:

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