Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


I used to travel around America a lot for business.

Sometimes, it was even enjoyable. But that was mainly because in those days Continental Airlines existed, which meant dinner would be more than palatable.

Now, though, I wonder how some people survive it.

On the other hand, traveling around is still presented as glamorous. The places you go, the people you see, the stories you have to tell when you return of the meeting in Moscow where brown envelopes wafted across the table, while you pretended to shut your eyes as it happened.

A new study, however, wonders whether it’s all worth it. It was performed by boffins at the University of Surrey in England and the Linnaeus University in Sweden. I wonder if they traveled first class to meet.

The study has an engagingly cheery title: A Darker Side of Hypermobility.

In essence, the researchers wondered whether business travel was less glamour and more pallor, torpor and bummer.

Oh, the places they went.

Their conclusion was that yes, we’re led to believe that travel is exciting, but “there exists an ominous silence with regard to its darker side.”

No, it’s not just that most American airlines have all the charm of colonic irrigation by screwdriver. It’s that there are “physiological, psychological, emotional and social costs” for both individuals and societies.

Most business travelers are familiar with jet lag. This study, though, focuses on items such as how (negatively) jet lag influences genes that affect aging. There’s also some evidence that it can turn off genes that influence the immune system, hence leaving your body more open to dropping dead.

And you thought it was just the late nights in the hotel bar.

Some research among cabin crew suggests that long-term exposure to your mind-body continuum not knowing which time zone it’s in can lead to cognitive degeneration.

And then there’s the blood clots, germs from close proximity with unknown others and radiation exposure. We mustn’t forget the temptation to snort a few extra glasses of complimentary alcohol, either.

Psychologically, there’s so-called disorientation (which some might define as the relief of escape). These days, there’s also the pressure of having to work on planes. I know of at least one fine, misguided multinational drinks conglomerate that, when bosses know someone is going on a business trip, give that person additional work to do on the flight.

Some studies say that business travel is isolating. Any relationships made are short-lived. It affects not only those who travel, but also those who are left behind. The researchers point to one study at the World Bank which showed a 300 percent increase in psychological medical insurance claims by travelers, as compared with non-travelers.

On the emotional and societal levels, physical disconnection gives rise to emotional disconnection, both with loved ones and even with a sense of what is home and what isn’t. The researchers bemoan the lack of research into all the factors that affect both the psychological and emotional states of frequent business travelers and those they leave behind.

The researchers admit that even the darker sides of business travel they point to could be glamorized. Yes, you’re tired, but the reason for it was exciting. Yes, you’re not quite yourself, but that’s because you’ve just come back from the gorgeous sunshine of Sydney.

At heart, they wonder whether business travel has a heart. They wonder whether its degenerative effects on individuals and on social harmony are too great.

There again, doesn’t everything in life have degenerative effects? Are we all supposed to merely operate in our little villages, producing little babies for the villagers to look after, contributing to village life and knowing everything about our neighbors, just in case they have a turn and want to put an ax in our heads?

Everything has its awful aspects. Humans’ capacity for boredom, irrationality, self-destruction, self-deception, mendacity, venality and capriciousness are infinite.

They may or may not be negatively affected by the many demands of business travel.

It might also make them nicer, happier people. Just a little, anyway. Well, temporarily.

Published on: Aug 23, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.