Tag Archives: war risk

Avoiding Burnout in Global Field Service Travel

Alan Freeman – LOF International HR Solutions

The following question, recently posted to an online discussion group, caught my eye:

“Our international technical services business is booming.  Our Field Service Techs are getting burnt out spending 2-3 months away from home. How can I incentivize them to keep traveling? They already receive an attractive daily bonus for each day in travel.  Also, some of the new clients are in areas that are not very desirable.”

My dear old grandpa used to tell me, “Son, if you run your horses too hard and too long, especially over rocky ground, they’re going to fall in exhaustion or go lame.  No amount of extra oats will make any difference.”

So what’s the problem?


Notable drop-offs in productivity, poor morale, health problems and, ultimately, resignations (at least in normal economic times) go hand-in-glove with heavy travel-related burnout – especially international travel to “not very desirable areas”.  If high crime rates, existence of serious infectious diseases, lack of sanitation, political unrest or even outright violence are characteristic of those destinations, then the prospect of employees being harmed, kidnapped or killed becomes a significant concern as well.

An indirect, negative impact on morale and productivity also can stem from marital or family problems attributable to employees’ extended absence from their spouses, partners and families.  Heavy travel on the part of one parent puts additional stress on the stay-at-home partner to look after the children, elderly parents, pets, household maintenance, financial management, etc.  In our experience, Field Service employees often maintained their homes and vehicles themselves so the spouse had to hire outside providers to look after these issues while the employee was traveling.

Throwing money at employees won’t make them or their families less susceptible to burnout, but it could contribute to a company reputation for “slave driving” and failing to understand the human side of the travel sacrifice. This is not a desirable outcome for the company or the employee.

What might be useful?


A firm could consider providing extended paid leave, “R&R”, between trips. Take a lesson from oil & gas, engineering & construction and defense contracting firms and utilize the “rotational assignment” approach.  Simply put, for every x weeks or months the employee works on travel, he/she is eligible for y weeks or months off on paid leave at home or in a “nice” location at company expense.  For example, one of our clients provides services at a mining site in a developing country.  Their employees work 7 days a week for 3 months at a camp site and then are sent home for a month off with full pay.

I once worked on a project where, after the employee worked 1 month (single status) at a remote Middle Eastern camp site, the company would pay for the employee and family to rendezvous in a Western European city, all expenses paid up to a set maximum, for a week.  Expensive? Yes, certainly.  Did it “refresh the horses”, improve morale and productivity and build positive morale and attitude toward the company?  Absolutely!

Sometimes, depending upon the facts and circumstances, it’s possible to provide some form of relaxation in-country (health club memberships, a bit of time off to sight-see, company-paid recreation, etc.) during travel.  This is another way to give them a needed rest.

Another possibility would be to hire additional Field Service staff so more employees share the travel burden and thereby make it possible for each to spend a bit less time in the field.  Yes, in today’s economic environment of extreme cost control, adding to labor cost is not a popular idea in the CFO’s office.  But then, what about the cost of assignment refusal, turnover, reduced productivity, lost opportunity while employees miss work due to illness or injury, and inability to recruit high caliber talent, etc.?

We also must ask how challenging, especially dangerous, are the “not very desirable” areas?  Iraq? Afghanistan? Somalia?  A jungle infested with disease-bearing mosquitoes?  Make sure you provide appropriate pre-travel medical exams and immunizations, and adopt some of the safety and security practices companies used for longer-term international assignees in hardship and danger locations.  This includes local safety and security plans, well thought out and established emergency evacuation plans and ensuring that death and disability insurance benefits are not voided by “war risk waiver” clauses in the insurance contracts.  This latter issue can easily be addressed through contact riders but, if not addressed proactively, can lead to extensive financial pain for the employer, especially given laws pertaining to the “duty of reasonable care”.  Woe unto those companies that have not established the mechanisms to track their employees’ whereabouts and deal effectively and quickly with emergencies.  Check out Mariana’s posting for some tips on extreme hardship assignments.

Our friends at International SOS Assistance are about to publish a research paper on employers’ legal “duty of care” that our readers should find of interest.

Something the person who raised the question didn’t mention – but we will – are global requirements for work permits, visas and tax compliance.  Often, even those on relatively brief field support trips to other countries are deemed by local governments to be performing “productive work” in those countries.  This can, and often does, require a work permit.  A company is well advised to consult with appropriate immigration counsel to ensure that its employees have the proper clearance to carry out their duties in each country.  This is not about the amount of time the employee might spend working in country; it is all about what he/she will be doing while in country.

As to taxes, members of management have often heard about the so-called “183 day rule” and simplistically believe that so long as the employee works in a given country for less than 183 days, he/she will not be liable for local income or social insurance taxes in the assignment country.  This is not necessarily the case and depends upon a number of key factors.  We recommend reading our contributing editor Claudia Howe’s excellent commentary on this issue.

So, at the end of the day, how do we respond to the question of “How do we incentivize our staff to keep traveling”?  We’d say, give your horses rest, treat them with dignity, recognize that their families bear a burden too, and provide them with fresh oats.

Otherwise, my dear old grandfather just might come back to haunt you!

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What do I need to know about the “war risk” rider for my BTA or AD&D plan?



George Bashaw – Atlas Global Benefits

The US State Department has already issued three travel warnings in the month of April for Georgia (gun fire and violence), Sudan (possibility of violence and harassment targeting westerners) and Central African Republic (armed rebel groups and bandits). Do you have employees working or traveling to the Middle East, Africa, or South America? If so, they may not be covered if you do not have war risk.

War Risk

War risk is a type of insurance that covers your employees due to acts of war, invasion, insurrection, rebellion and hijacking and may include weapons of mass destruction. Concerning benefits, war risk is a commonly excluded rider on Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) and Business Travel Accident (BTA) policies unless specifically requested.

What to look for:

Make a list of all the countries where your employees are traveling and make sure the insurance carrier has not excluded one of these locations. Typically, carriers classify dangerous countries “hot spots” or “hot zones” by area of severity. Notify your broker or carrier so the carrier can assess the risk and include these hot zones.

What if the countries you travel to varies depending on assignments and cannot be predicted? Disclose the known countries and request an annual audit to be performed at the end of the year.  An initial down payment is typically requested ($500 is fair).  This will give you flexibility to report known travel exposure at the end of the year. The carriers should be able to retroactively bill you for “actual” exposure.

Annual Audit vs. Fully Insured

Most carriers can offer War Risk as either a fully insured plan or an annual audit.  If you elect the fully insured plan, you will be paying a premium on an estimated exposure.  Depending on budgets, your company may prefer a ‘known’ premium for this coverage.

Annual Audit is the other alternative.  As previously mentioned, the carrier will perform an audit at the end of the year and bill for “actual” exposure.  In my experience, the amount charged back based on actual exposure will be less than the estimated amount in a fully insured offering.  In addition, the carrier rarely seems to conduct these audits annually when the policy is prepaid.

Cost and Payment Options:

BTA is one of the least expensive benefits your company can offer. Adding war risk is a great idea if you have any employees that travel outside of the US.

Typically there are three options for paying this premium: annual premium, annual installment, and three year prepaid.

Three year prepaid is the way to go. It is typically over 10% less expensive and you are less likely to get an annual audit. Plus, it is about the only benefit you will not have to renew next year. If you cancel the policy before the end of three years, most carriers will refund any “unused” premium.

If you want to pay every year, you should choose the annual installment over the annual premium since it will also be offered at a discounted rate (around 5%). The annual installment is essentially a rate guarantee for three years. No penalty if the policy is canceled prior to three years.

This is the skinny on war risk. Please let me know if you need your policy evaluated or if you have any questions.

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