The JGM BitBlog: International business travelling - exhaustive or a mere delight hiding from your boss?

Journal of Global Mobility

Liisa Mäkelä, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland

Jussi Tanskanen, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland

Hilpi Kangas, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland

Milla Heikkilä, Sofokus, Tampere, Finland

International business travelers (IBTs), are important resources for companies. In order to keep them healthy and well-performing we need to know more what affects their work well-being, in particular, job exhaustion in general and job exhaustion during their international business trips (IBTExh).

First of all, length of the business trips and geographical distance of travel destinations are likely to represent job demands with potential to harm work well-being of IBTs. Therefore, we explore if travelling to more distant destinations (long-haul travel) and travel to closer destinations (short-haul travel) make a difference on job exhaustion. Long-duration international business travel in general is associated with a higher level of job exhaustion and IBTExh. However, we found that geographical distance does not play an important role in how exhausted IBTs are during their business trips as the positive effect of the duration of long-haul international business trips on IBTExh was only marginally stronger than the effect of short-haul international business travel duration. Regarding general job exhaustion, the effect of the duration of long-haul business trips was not statistically significant, but the duration of short-haul trips significantly increased the risk of such exhaustion. Although the effects of short- and long-haul business trips did not differ significantly from each other, the finding indicates that short-haul trips may place more strain on everyday work requirements than long-haul trips do, thus increasing the risk of general job exhaustion. Perhaps long-haul trips to more distant cultural contexts and challenging environments involve even more developmental elements and thus help IBTs to cope with work in general. In addition, it may be possible that being in a different context and far away from the everyday environment offers an opportunity to mentally switch off and obtain some respite from general work demands.

Second, good leadership is a job resource, typically promoting work-well-being. IBTs’ dyadic relationship with his/ her leader -Leader-Member Exchange relationship (LMX) happens in the context in which supervisor and subordinate do not physically work in the same place once IBTs travelling. We found that a high-quality LMX was related to lower general job exhaustion and IBTExh. As job resources are typically buffering the negative effects of job demands, we also explored if length of short-haul and long-haul business trips is associated differently to job exhaustion and IBTExh depending of IBTs’ LMX relationship quality. We found that  for those having a high number of long-haul travel days, a high-quality LMX did not buffer the adverse effect of long-haul IBT duration on IBTExh but rather increased it. Thus, IBTExh was at its highest among those who were in high-quality LMX relationships and reported a high number of long-haul international business travel days. It is however important to note that most employees reported rather few long-haul international business travel days per year and among them, those who had a high quality LMX suffered less from IBTExh compared to those with a low-quality LMX. It therefore appears that a high-quality LMX buffered the adverse effect of travel days on IBTExh for those with a standard number of long-haul international business travel days, as expected and the unexpected moderation results relate to those IBTs reporting a large number of long-haul travel days. The results suggest that those IBTs with a high-quality LMX suffered from being far away from their supervisors but the long-lasting long-haul destination trips may not be as harmful or may even be beneficial for those in a low-quality LMX relationship, given that a proportion of IBTs do not experience excess IBTExh or some even experience less IBTExh the more time they spent far away from their supervisors.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:

Mäkelä, L., Tanskanen, J., Kangas, H. and Heikkilä, M. (2021), "International business travelers' job exhaustion: effects of travel days spent in short-haul and long-haul destinations and the moderating role of leader-member exchange", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 434-455.