The Job Less Traveled
The Job Less Traveled: Workers Seek Relief From Business Trips
July 12, 2007; Page B5
Rich Gee was deep into negotiations with a prospective employer for an executive marketing job when he dropped a small bomb: Could the company, he asked, be “flexible on travel?” — code for reducing business trips.
The interviewer looked surprised and asked why. Although Mr. Gee detailed several ways cutting travel would save the company time and money, more important for him was actually more time home with his wife and kids.
More job candidates are bargaining hard for a perk very rare in the past: less travel. Competition for skilled recruits is so intense in certain sectors, including some marketing and consulting jobs, that companies are bending to job seekers’ requests.
Reduced-travel deals rank among the top three nonfinancial concessions sought by new hires, says the Association of Executive Search Consultants, New York. Some 48% of men and 67% of women said they are more likely today to negotiate for less travel, compared with five years ago, says a 2006 survey of 477 executives by the association. Tensions over the issue are mounting as business travel edges higher: The total number of business trips this year is expected rise 1.6%, says the Travel Industry Association, Washington, D.C., based on government data and a 70,000-household survey.
Airport delays, security hassles and travel’s heavy time demands are fueling the resistance. For years, Donald Kowall, Sacramento, Calif., traveled more than 100,000 miles a year for his work as an information-technology consultant. Such demands “fry people to a crisp” and contributed to his divorce a few years ago, he says. Now, as an independent contractor, he limits travel to three days a week.
“It’s a difficult package” to sell, he admits. “I get a lot of complaints from companies.” But many employers “want to drive you to death, and I just won’t put myself in that position.”
A few companies are sweetening the pot. An annual survey of 590 employers by the Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, Va., shows the proportion of companies offering additional pay for weekend travel edged slightly higher since 2002, to 10% from 8%. Those paying travel expenses for a spouse rose to 6% from 4%.
But most reduced-travel deals are made case by case, making negotiation crucial. Some job seekers focus on avoiding spur-of-the-moment trips, insisting on advance planning, says Marilyn Machlowitz, a New York executive-search consultant. Others bargain over the number of trips per year, saying, “I could do 25 trips but not 35.”
Chuck Wardell, a managing director in New York for Korn/Ferry International, says others want to control the purpose of trips. “They’ll say, ‘I’m very happy to travel for customers…but I want to be exempt from the corporate fluff,’ ” such as internal meetings in distant cities.
Men and women alike are quicker to put family issues on the table, Ms. Machlowitz says. When she told one executive candidate for a foundation job that it involved 40% travel, she says he responded: “That’s impossible. You’re asking me not to be a father to my child.”
Mr. Gee supported his request for reduced travel by stressing the business benefits. In his interview, he said teleconferencing with clients would save time. Also, he proposed “meeting halfway” with vendors; instead of traveling back and forth to each other’s offices, he would pick a meeting site halfway between the vendor’s offices and his, eliminating the need for an overnight stay. The interviewer liked the ideas, and Mr. Gee, now a Stamford, Conn., executive coach, took the job.
Others recommend pushing for travel-reducing technology. Jonathan Donahue, a Stamford, Conn., sales executive, suggests pressing for a notebook computer with secure remote access, BlackBerry, conference calling and shared secure Web sites. Using such gear has reduced travel to about 30% to 40% of his time, he says, compared with the 80% he estimates he would have to travel without it.
Also, once you decide how much travel you can tolerate, “stick to your guns,” Mr. Kowall advises — and realize that many employers are still rejecting such requests. His stance on travel has drawn refusals from several prospective employers. But it is a price he is willing to pay, he says. “I work to live. I don’t live to work.”
• Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for negotiating less travel:
Wait until you have job offer in hand
Show how traveling less will save time and money
Give concrete plans for keeping up client/customer contacts/relationships