Business Travel and Your Inner Child

I have something to share with the group:  I am a perkaholic.  If it’s complimentary then, on principle, I have to have it. As such, it is both a blessing and a curse to be a business traveller.  I reckon the airlines’ fight to outperk each other has added three inches to my waistline and single-handedly reduced my liver to a bean-sized nodule.   

Before I alienate two-thirds of my readership, I understand that not everyone can enjoy the benefits of business class travel.  But bear with me – I guarantee that within a few paragraphs the economy flyers will realise they are altogether more spiritually whole.

And to the privileged few: well, I dare you to walk into the Club lounge in any European airport and not consume something - not through physical need, but on principle, because it’s free.  Can you make it to your seat past the basket overflowing with paprika flavoured crisps? (Why are foreign crisps always paprika flavour - is it because they know Gary Lineker won’t try to nick them?).  And once you’ve had the fifth bag, of course, you will be thirsty.  Look at those slightly-below-room-temperature cans of obscure <?xml:namespace prefix="st1" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags"?> Kazakhstan lager, calling to you: “Take me - I’m free!”  Oh alright, just the four then, you tell yourself, but then you’ll stop - after all, you haven’t had breakfast yet.

You see how easy it is to get started.  And once you’re on the free booze, more snacks will follow.  You find you can no longer satisfy your craving with just crisps.  Now you have to eat something different with each can of Naffenhofen.  Peanuts with the first can, crisps with the second, then pretzels, olives, cheese straws, shortbread, …. I once munched my way through several handfuls of an intriguing looking snack before I realised it was expanded polystyrene packing material from the box the peanuts had been delivered in.  Still, it filled the gap between elevenses and lunch quite nicely.  No wonder the airlines are lobbying to weigh passengers before they board.

The main problem is that, inevitably, the Captain refuses to let you on the plane as you slur and stagger your way down the gantry, packs of mini-pretzels tumbling from your pockets.    So it’s back to the lounge to see how well Fernet Branca goes with Noilly Prat (the answer is tolerably well if you add a dash of uht cream and float a paprika flavour crisp on the top).

Is it any wonder that business class travellers are seen as spoiled, selfish individuals?  Is it any wonder employers ban business class travel as an avoidable luxury?  But I’m sorry, employers, I have to say you are Missing The Point.  We want to travel business class for the same reason we want to be promoted or want a company car with ‘go faster’ stripes: it is concrete proof of our worth.  We all need a feeling of significance in this lonely world, and it would be comforting to know the boss values us enough to pay for the privilege of an extra three inches of legroom, bigger peanuts and free lukewarm lager.  Instead, we are told to stop thinking of ourselves and to think instead of the shareholders and the CEO’s profit-related bonus. 

There is a dreadful appreciation deficit in most modern organisations.  I accept that not many senior managers walk into their annual review and shout “I need a hug!”, but you know somewhere inside them there’s an inner child needing exactly that.  Why else do otherwise sensible executives put so much energy into raising their blood pressure chasing promotions, when all that happens as a result is their blood pressure rises again as they chase the next one?  It’s simple: because a promotion says you’ve been noticed.  When your only contact with your boss is an occasional email from Singapore reminding you of the policy against ordering company cars with ‘go faster’ stripes, that might be the quickest route to feeling significant these days.

If more managers took the trouble to tell their direct reports what they like about them and their work, maybe fewer crowded flights from Amsterdam would be full of besuited travellers shouting “It’s not fair!  You let that man take two bags on the plane and made me check mine in!  Don’t you know I’m a gold card holder?”  We learned as toddlers that shouting gets you picked up and comforted, but when it fails to work as adults we’re a bit lost. 

So, bosses, here’s a cost-cutting tip they don’t teach you at reengineering school: give your employees a metaphorical hug every day, and maybe they’ll be less obsessed with perks and freebies.  Oh, and next time you’re on a plane and the drinks trolley comes round, ask for a spare bottle for your inner child.  It always works for me.

(c) 2003, Phil Lowe.  All rights reserved.