Two broad trends are driving a greater focus on the issue of Duty of Care: an escalating global risk environment and the demand by UK companies, large and small, for their employees to travel abroad on business.

Recent research commissioned by Collinson Group on the issue of Duty of Care found that more than half (54%) of HR professionals say the process of sending employees abroad will get more complicated and difficult over the next 12 months.

A unique facet of the research was to examine whether larger corporates and SMEs (firms with less than 250 employees) approach their Duty of Care responsibilities differently.

This analysis revealed some interesting differences. Almost three quarters (73%) of HR professionals at larger corporates (firms with more than 250 employees) agreed that the process of sending employees abroad has become more complicated and difficult over the past 12 months, compared to 44% of SMEs. This difference in threat perception could be because large corporates have greater access to resources highlighting the changing global travel risk environment, tools that many SMEs will not have accessed.

Other findings were quite stark. More than double the number of larger corporates vs. SMEs (53% compared to 25%) said they conduct risk assessments if the employee is going to an area deemed 'high risk', for instance.

Twice the number of SMEs (19%) said they only use a travel management company and not a specialist corporate travel risk partner to provide employee support abroad compared with just 10% of larger corporates. In terms of how they track and/ or communicate with employees when they are abroad, 39% of larger corporates cite using an outsourced assistance or travel tracking company as opposed to just 14% of SMEs.

If employees are travelling to high risk environments, it is vital firms offer appropriate support in terms of guidance and logistics, which can be facilitated easily through specialist third party agencies.

No ‘one-size-fits-all’

One of the key challenges for businesses big and small is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution in relation to Duty of Care requirements: guidelines that define ‘best practice’ exist but will not be relevant or practical to all business’s needs. As a result, it is not unsurprising to find a multitude of approaches to managing staff business travel.

However, there are some commonalities towards Duty of Care that many firms look to, or aspire to, provide. Three of the key ones usually incorporated within a robust travel risk policy are individual/ journey risk assessments; integrating the services of corporate travel risk partners and travel management companies; and clear travel risk guidance to staff travelling on business.

Nearly three-fifths (58%) of SMEs said they have a corporate travel policy and it includes a risk management strategy; a similar number of larger corporates (61%) also said they do. Almost a third (31%) of SMEs said they have a corporate travel policy but it does not include a risk management strategy – as did a quarter (26%) of larger corporates.

The findings show a similar number of large and SME firms have a risk management strategy in place – though many clearly do not. Almost half (47%) of the HR professionals at larger firms compared to two-fifths (40%) of smaller ones said they ensure staff are issued with company guidelines with regards to business travel.

Closer and clearer communication between staff

Overall, there are some broad trends with regards to larger and smaller firms and their approach to Duty of Care. SMEs generally benefit from closer and clearer communication between staff, given their smaller size; however, they can potentially be exposed in terms of Duty of Care as products if used at all will most likely be ‘off the shelf’ and not advised / tailored.

Larger firms tend to have more resources and legal frameworks in place to drive implementation, but can also suffer from multiple office locations and multiple stakeholders that can lead to a fragmented approach to Duty of Care.

One question frequently asked is ‘how can organisations provide their employees with the best possible ‘customer experience’ while also fulfilling their Duty of Care responsibilities?’ One of the best places to start is with the staff travelling on business themselves.

Here, the research found that they want guidance and communication from their firms. Too many – 41% – said there are difficulties getting advice on security risks and knowing who to contact if and when an incident occurs (39%). More than a third (36%) said they only receive ‘standardised’ travel information from their company before they travel.

Duty of Care is not a ‘nice to have’ it is a legal requirement that firms must adhere to or risk serious financial penalties and prosecution. Despite the growth of global video conferencing, real-time document sharing and other technological innovations designed to ease working internationally, business travel is still often absolutely essential for many firms. Employees must be supported when they work abroad, it is not just about peace of mind, every year huge numbers of business travellers require emergency medical or security assistance abroad.

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