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Fri, Mar 08, 2002 - Page 21 News List

Business travel makes spouses physically sick


The spouses of executives who make frequent business trips abroad face a much higher risk of falling sick with mental or emotional problems than the partners of executives who do not travel, a study says.

The evidence comes from medical insurance claims filed by spouses of World Bank employees in Washington over 12 months between 1997 and 1998.

During this time, more than 4,600 spouses made a claim, two-thirds of them women and one third of them men.

Among business travellers who made four or more international trips in one year, spouses filed 16 percent more claims for health treatment than spouses whose partners did not travel.

More specifically, claims for psychological disorders were nearly twice as many among the frequent travel group, while for stress-related disorders, the rate was triple. Intestinal problems and skin disease were also far more common.

The researchers, led by Lennart Dimberg of the World Bank's Occupational Health Services, say the corporate world has still to realise that spouses can suffer from ill health if their partner is often absent from home.

"The boundary between the workplace and the home is permeable," the study warns.

Brief, frequent separations are probably more destructive than occasional, longer ones, they suggest.

This is because frequent absences are more disruptive to family life and the returning traveller finds it harder to resume a normal routine, they suggest.

Corporations should closely look at the travel workload of their employees because anxiety about problems at home can be a major drag on a worker's effectiveness, they add.

"Promoting the wellbeing of spouses and family may be particularly important for companies that employ international business travellers, because of the potential impact on functioning at work among stressed employees."

Frequent long-haul trips are a known health hazard to business people, being associated with high blood pressure, ulcers and other intestinal problems, depression and emotional distress.

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