Appropriate corporate travel policy for cost conscious SME in the UK?
March 27, 2013 9:26 AM   Subscribe

You run a growing private limited company in the UK. Turnover between 2 and 5M with a close eye on costs. Your employees sometimes need to travel at weekends or in their own time in evenings. You keep them happy, and remain profitable. How?

I am wrestling with what is fair and reasonable, and affordable, for a company of this size.

Assuming a standard 9-5 day, what extra travel is reasonable to expect if an employee is visiting a customer site for the day (or two)? At what point should we be giving time off in lieu or compensating for lost hours? Instinct says that any weekend travel should be given back, but I'm less clear on boundaries for daily travel.

If you've made this work at a similar sized organisation, what policy did you end up with?

Especially interested in data from surveys of similar sized organisations, or actual data points from people currently in this size, or have been through it.
posted by BOfH to Work & Money (6 answers total)
Do you need a formal policy? Every place I have worked there has always been an informal agreement that if you travel or work out of hours you have the flexibility to use some regular work hours for personal time - in consultation with your manager of course. "Hey, I spent Monday night working on that report / traveling for that meeting, so I'll leave at midday on Friday if that's ok with you." I have never seen this work out to the employer's detriment (meaning, the balance of hours worked is always in the company's favour).

Of course, that's best for salaried employees. For employees paid an hourly rate you should ALWAYS pay them for additional hours or give time off - maybe at their discretion?

Generally you keep employees happy if you treat them like trusted adults, give them maximum flexibility in figuring out how to balance work and life and go from there.
posted by yogalemon at 9:35 AM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I travelled a lot for a previous job. While I did not mind overnight trips on weekdays (workdays), as I have young kids travelling or working on the weekend was something to be avoided at all costs, but was sometimes necessary.

Mind you, it depends on what your employees are actually doing, and if they were aware of the expectation they would need to travel to do their jobs when they were hired or assumed the position.

I think most employees who travel understand it is part of the job. Culturally, your workplace may be accustomed to weekend travel as well. Or not.

Anyway, as an employee, I had a per diem for travel that allowed me to buy a hotel breakfast, a nice lunch, and a nice dinner - about $75 a day. I did not have to provide receipts. Since I did a lot of travel and eating that kind of food regularly is bad, I often bought food at a supermarket. This saved me money, which I pocketed. This was a perk of the job, and the money I pocketed made up for the travel.

As mentioned, I never worried about taking time off in lieu of travel time. For one thing, travel was part of the job, and I was on a salary.

More importantly, travel cut into my productivity. Working on a laptop on a tiny regional jet is not easy.

I also controlled my schedule, which made things easier. On occasions where my employer said I had to show up for something, typically on a weekend, I would book the time off.

Staying in a nicer hotel (Hyatt, etc) also made things a lot nicer.

I of courser provided receipts for hotel and tickets, etc.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 AM on March 27, 2013

Hi - I've run UK businesses from £3m to £15m within larger organisations.

Whether you go with a hard and fast policy can depend on employee engagement and how much you trust your managers to make the right call. If your employees are disengaged, they'll begrudge things like travel out of hours, or over weekends. If you don't trust your managers to be sensitive in not handing out days in lieu willy nilly - or not allowing any days in lieu - you'll need a policy. The basic working policy I used was manager discretion.

In my old company, basically nobody got any days in lieu for having to get to the airport at 7am, or getting home at 10pm from a business trip. When employees had to travel over the weekend, it was done with consultation (i.e. they weren't just ordered to give up their weekends) and we used to have some give and take on days in lieu. I used to take most of a day off when I came back from India because I used to travel all Sunday out and travel back overnight, with a change in the middle of the night, on Thursday. But if it was, say, a trip to New York and it was cheaper for the employee to fly out on the Saturday they'd be ok with it because it gave them Saturday night and Sunday out there on the company dime.

Years ago, different company, the same rules applied but they used to stiff people on the per diem. It was $20 a day or something absurd. I would expect receipts (and your accountant will thank you for this in the UK where HMRC is getting much tighter on expenses) but for a sensible daily spend.

Finally - most of my staff that travelled were either young-ish, so business travel was genuinely exciting, or well paid/well commissioned. I had one team that were older and also less well paid. They also had a poor manager. They insisted that the travel policy was carved in stone and I don't blame them - there was nothing glamorous about their travel, they didn't really enjoy it, and they weren't paid well enough to suck it up.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:49 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work for (and am a partner at) a similar sized UK business. Rule of thumb is that travel time is not compensated over and above standard remuneration (this goes right down to the level of our junior analysts, who are not amazingly generously compensated). Travel and subsistence are reimbursed as receipted expenses.

An application of common sense works in both directions (ie if I'm traveling for Sunday overnight stays for a Monday offsite with any frequency, then I'll be afforded some leeway to perhaps finish a little earlier if I wish later that week).

Costs are controlled fairly tightly but with some common sense eg it would be frowned on for me to say fly to the US for £1000 on a Sunday evening, where I could fly out for £400 on a Saturday lunchtime and stay the extra 1 - 2 nights in a hotel for £150, but if I absolutely had to do this for personal reasons, my employer would be understanding and prepared to negotiate the situation in advance with me.

Haven't ever needed to try to capture any of this in a formal policy, but then this type of travel is very clearly an integral part of the work we do. I would be inclined to be more cautious if it was a 'new' thing for existing staff to be asked to make themselves available for significant work related travel without a review of their compensation and terms of employment.

Not sure in my experience of working in SMEs that there has ever been a more rigorous set of rules than this. My brother is an IBM'er, and has all sorts of complex per diems and rules on which hotels he can use, but at that size of enterprise it kind of makes sense.
posted by bifter at 10:02 AM on March 27, 2013

I've only ever done business travel for large companies, and I work (primarily) in the US, so some of this may not apply.

For the company I did the most business travel for (and other companies I traveled for were similar):

* I was a salaried employee. However, as long as I worked a total of 80 hours over a two week pay period, that was okay. If I was expected to work more than 80 hours in a given pay period, I was sometimes paid overtime pay at time and a half, but that was at my supervisor's discretion. (Overtime pay was very infrequent -- typically only if I had to travel overseas and thus had two 8 hour flights on either end or something like that.)

* Travel was considered an inconvenience, so time spent on the plane, getting to/from the airport, waiting for delayed flights, et cetera was paid time for me. So if I had to catch a 5 am flight to be at a 9am meeting and then worked a full day, that would have been considered a 12 hour day, and I'd be able to take the extra 4 hours off at some other point in the pay period (so long as I kept my supervisor apprised of my work schedule plans). As a previous commenter said, employees will generally be happy if you treat them like adults and give them schedule flexibility, of course.

* Plane tickets, rental cars, and hotels were paid in full by the company. I got a daily meal allowance that varied by city (I'd get a greater amount for the daily meal allowance if I had to travel to London than if I had to travel to Denver, for example); this was calculated using some US Government site that had tables of how much average daily costs were in cities worldwide. Perhaps a similar table exists created by the UK Government, or perhaps since you're a small company you might want to allot the same amount for meals regardless of where the employee needs to travel. Generally the meal allowance was enough for me to have a decent dinner at a nice restaurant and two other, quicker, smaller meals.

Often, I paid for breakfast and lunch out of my own pocket and used my entire meal allowance for a really nice dinner -- the company was OK with this. I was issued a corporate American Express card, on which I put plane tickets, rental cars, hotels, meals, and so on... at the end of my trip I submitted copies of all receipts with an expense report and the company paid my AmEx bill.

I don't think you necessarily need a formal policy and I don't think you need to include all of these elements. I was happy with these policies.
posted by tckma at 10:19 AM on March 27, 2013

The medium-size company I work for in the US has what I've found to be a reasonable travel policy: if travel time causes you to exceed 45 hrs/wk then you get it back in additional vacation.

As an employee I'd rather it was 40 hours as the cutoff rather than 45, but I've always rationalized the 5 hour difference as compensating for a hypothetical 30-minute-per-direction commute that you'd otherwise have if you weren't traveling that week. Also, you're not expected to necessarily be able to work while traveling (else you'd record it as working time, not travel), it's purely compensation for lost personal time, e.g. if you have to fly out on Sunday night to make a Monday morning meeting.

In response to others who are advocating not formulating an actual policy: personally I would strongly prefer to have an actual policy on this rather than just leave it unsaid, which might lead to misunderstandings or differences between various managers on how to compensate for travel time, which can really create bitterness between employees if there's any inconsistency. Unless you have an absurdly high-trust workplace I would not want to run that risk, given how straightforward it would be to come up with a policy and let everyone know what it is.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2013

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