Banning Holiday Travel?

Experts say CEOs should stay home for the holidays if they want employees to do the same.

Cancel the ski adventure in Colorado. Postpone the New Year’s Eve party. Reschedule Christmas for July.

As COVID-19 continues to sicken hundreds of thousands of people each day across the country, companies are mulling what until this year would have seemed unthinkable: persuading employees not to go anywhere or have big celebrations this holiday season.

Experts say organizations can, and perhaps should, advise employees to minimize or cancel travel. Importantly, CEOs, board directors, and other corporate leaders should do the same. “This is one that leaders should lead by example versus mandate,” says Ron Porter, a leader of Korn Ferry’s Human Resources Center of Expertise. That, experts say, would build more trust with employees and discourage feelings of “If the boss won’t follow the rules, why should I?” Indeed, some government leaders have asked their citizens to stay home or avoid large gatherings only to then show up dining at fancy restaurants or, in one case, fly out of the country. “When you don’t lead by example, you see how bad it can get,” says Brian Bloom, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global benefits.

In practice, a company cannot actually prevent employees at any level from traveling. “As long as the US government allows domestic travel, it is nearly impossible for companies to limit the movement of their people,” says Dan Kaplan, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in human resources.

However, companies could require employees, remote or otherwise, to disclose travel plans. They also can enforce recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or local health mandates for post-travel quarantine periods. Or they can ask employees to sign a pledge to stay home or limit contact with others, then discipline employees who break the pledge. 

Joe Griesedieck, a Korn Ferry vice chairman and managing director of the firm’s Board and CEO Services practice, says he wasn’t aware of any directives that have come CEOs or boards on this issue. “It would be perfectly good sense for CEOs to advise their people to postpone or cancel travel under current conditions,” he says. “Hopefully people themselves would adopt this stance just out of common sense.”

Canceling holiday-season travel could be doubly frustrating for many. In a survey conducted around Memorial Day, 37% of employees said they were saving vacation time normally reserved for summer breaks for time later in the year, hopefully to travel. Still, it isn’t as if Americans are particularly good at taking time off, anyway. When Korn Ferry surveyed executives about vacation habits last year, the majority (71%) said they still check in with the office one or more times each day. Two out of three said they’ve cut short a break or canceled one for work reasons. One-third of respondents said they would rather get paid for working rather than take the days off.