People Risk Management – Translating Rhetoric into Reality
“Our people are our most valuable asset.”
You see it on websites. You’ve heard business leaders say it in public forums. It or a similar statement is probably in your company’s employee handbook.
Businesses do have duty of care obligations to safeguard their employees. And most companies have sophisticated safety programs in place to protect workers in dangerous or hazardous jobs.
However, relatively few businesses have comprehensive risk management programs designed to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all of their employees, at all times. Instead, “people risk management” in many organizations typically covers compliance or conduct risk; the consequences of employees not following corporate policies, procedures or rules.
Another indication of the relative priority of people risk management within an organization is how it supports employees traveling for business. For instance, the primary resource many organizations offer their business travelers is a 24-hour hotline they can call if, say, their flight is canceled.
That’s certainly useful. But is it enough?
A long way from home
In today’s highly globalized economy, companies are doing business in more locations and in more far-flung corners of the world.
And yet, according to research sponsored by International SOS:
- 80 percent of travelers had concerns about safety abroad, but less than half research security issues pre-travel
- 71 percent of senior executives had medical problems abroad, but only 15 percent assess healthcare pre-travel
- Nearly 1 in 3 trips abroad are to countries with higher risk ratings than the traveler’s home country.
Also, risk by definition is amplified whenever someone is away from his/her home base. We’ve all had some – maybe many – testing experiences when traveling to a different city or country.
There can be language or cultural issues. Luggage can be lost or money stolen. Access to quality healthcare in an emergency may be limited. A traveler may not know where it’s unsafe for an outsider to venture. Transit strikes, civil strife or natural disasters can create chaos.
At the core of any travel risk management program are the resources and capabilities for responding to an incident quickly, effectively and responsively.
Given the array of perils travelers can face, a robust travel risk management program can reduce costly interruptions to business activities. The resources and capabilities that make up such a program can also help smooth the hassles and inconveniences travelers commonly encounter and, in turn, boost employee motivation and commitment.
Look before you leap
A corporate travel risk management program should focus on the three types of incidents employees can experience when they leave the home base: they fall ill or have an accident; their personal security and possessions are endangered; or their wellbeing is threatened – psychologically, financially or both.
For each of these potential threats, the risk management program should encompass: risk assessments to identify where and how a traveler could encounter problems; actions that can be taken to prevent or minimize particular perils; and the capabilities and resources needed to manage and respond to different kinds of events.
The range of specific topics addressed in the program, plus the level of detail, can be scaled to the needs of the organization; smaller companies with a handful of employees traveling only to developed countries clearly face fewer threats compared to large companies with many employees roaming less developed corners of the world.
One aim of the risk assessments should be to ensure the traveler is capable of making the journey. Expat assignments lasting from six months to three years are becoming more common, and these are often inherently costly; the financial impact if something goes awry can be significant. That risk can be minimized, however, by conducting a medical and psychological assessment beforehand; is this person physically and mentally ready to go on this assignment?
Pre-trip risk assessments should also help travelers understand the lay of the land, and ensure they have the support they need to move about safely and securely in an unfamiliar setting. Business travelers, for example, usually plan to just get off the plane, go through the airport and grab a taxi to the office or hotel. Doing that in some cities, however, is not advised. At best, you’re left by the side of the road without your money and belongings. At worst, you’re held for ransom. In cities like this arrangements need to be made ahead of time for a pre-identified contact to meet the traveler at the airport and drive him/her in a secure car to their destination.
The prevention component of a travel risk management program often includes training on what people can do to enhance their safety while on a trip, both from a medical and security perspective. This can also be as formal or informal as the organization desires – the options range from online modules to onsite training workshops.
Ground control to Major Tom
Assessing potential threats in advance and taking appropriate actions to minimize them are clearly important – and not sufficient. At the core of any travel risk management program are the resources and capabilities for responding to an incident quickly, effectively and responsively.
A critical enabler for this element of the program is travel tracking. That’s not a new development but, in my experience, it is surprisingly underutilized. And the tools continue to become more sophisticated.
As the name suggests, travel tracking involves knowing where your employees are at a particular moment and paying attention to what’s going on around the world.
It’s in the latter area where some of the most noteworthy innovations are taking place. The systems today can capture immense volumes of data from a widening variety of sources – weather forecasts, travel schedules, news reports, you name it. And the data are usually highly current – often in real-time – and localized.
That means someone in the head office can be notified when something has happened or is developing in a particular location. Based on data stored in the system, the manager can quickly establish who is in the vicinity and initiate appropriate responses.
Smartphone apps are also becoming a standard tool nowadays. These typically include an emergency call button that enables the traveler to call a 24-hour hotline with one touch. And when the app is linked to the travel tracking system, alerts can be pushed directly to the employee’s smartphone based on pre-set criteria.
Some apps can also track people as they move around. While privacy considerations are an issue, a phone with geolocation capabilities enabled can trigger an alert in the response center if the phone moves outside a certain area or travels somewhere that is not on the employee’s itinerary.
Effective people risk management, of course, isn’t limited just to the possible harms that can befall business travelers. In a subsequent article, my colleague Toni LePine will describe some of the other ways companies can protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all of their employees, at all times.
Patrick Corbett is XL Catlin’s Global Head of Life, Accident & Health. Patrick has 20+ years of experience in A&H and is based in London. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org