The more I travel for work, the more I long to have my family with me. But just what does that look like and what are the ethical implications of bringing the family along on business trips?
Being Away From Home Can Be Hard
This year, more than others in the past, my work visits tend to be to one city for about four nights. My daughter is just five and at a critical age. There is a real struggle between being successful and providing a life for her that I always wanted for her with being present enough for it to matter. For those that have the luxury of both, I salute you.
My father was gone most of my childhood four nights every week on business, yet we have a very close relationship and always have; being apart does not necessitate a bad parental relationship nor does coming home every night from work necessitate a good one.
All the same, the older she gets, the more I see her growing up from the little girl that would beg me to read her a story when I was all too tired from a long day.
I’m not going to miss out on these critical years.
The biggest challenge when bringing the family along on business trips are the ethical implications. Business trips are paid for by the company and are not mini-vacations. Often, this couldn’t be clearer, but if I were to take my daughter to Orlando during a convention and then to Disney after meetings are finished for the day, is that ok?
Often, the concern does not necessarily arise from the act of having family present on a business trip but the implied limitations family can put on an employee there solely to conduct business. It would be improper to avoid dinner with clients to spend time with family if that’s the reason an employee is there.
The issue is typically more with perception from co-workers than anything else. With social media as pervasive as it is, co-workers may misinterpret an occasional inclusion of family as misusing company funds. That doesn’t mean there is actually an issue with it but perception is the reality.
Does Management Approve?
Management may not condone bringing the family along on business trips but should. I am fortunate to work for a company that does allow my family to join me from time-to-time and I will be careful not to abuse that privilege. Other companies I have worked for have given me the latitude to bring them along on occasion as long as there was no interference with my work.
That being said, management should be consulted prior to family joining an employee on a business trip. In my experience, being open and honest with my employer usually leads to an embrace of the concept. Several times, my employer has suggested I take them out for dinner on the corporate card. Again, moderation and honesty are key.
Another concern is whether ethical charges are being incurred solely in connection with the employee’s business requirements and the nature of out of town work.
Did the employee order a large pizza on the company card to treat his family or would he have spent the same amount anyway? Did the employee take the same rental car they would normally book or upgrade for one that fits their family more comfortably? Was the hotel chosen in relation to the convenience for client visits or due to the pool?
Here are some basic guidelines I keep in place:
- Don’t change any parameters of normal business bookings (use the same hotel rooms, rental car categories and flight booking criteria)
- Do not alter spending on meals to accommodate family
- Make everything clearly above reproach
- When in doubt, pay out of pocket
My, then girlfriend now wife, joined me on a business trip to Las Vegas early in our relationship. She respected that it was a work trip for me and I made time for her when work was done. It was fine. My wife has been understanding on the few business trips she has joined me, my daughter is happy with a pool and a new city.
The same boundaries that are in place when working from home have to be respected by families traveling with the employee. Business calls, computer time and meetings have to be separate from family time. If something comes up for business, the family has to understand.
Employees that have inexact personal and work boundaries will find it difficult to manage. Families can feel ignored, employees can be distracted while they should be focusing on work – boundaries are important. Families should discuss them in advance, be clear and enforce them.
It’s a joy to bring my family on work trips though it may be less fun for them. When the opportunity arises to bring them along, it suits their schedule and my employer approves, I am happy for them to join. I encourage other employees to consider this approach and spend more time with their families while working out of town. It creates an unusual reprieve for the constant road warrior and creates a new environment for their loved ones.
Have you taken your family with you on a business trip? What has your experience been? How do you balance home/work life? Does your employer approve or disapprove?