Tip for trying to boost morale: Don’t brag about your overseas trips

Once upon a time, a senior manager held a team meeting to address low team morale. Attempting to highlight how important the project was, he opened by saying, "I just got back from ⟨faraway country⟩, meeting with some of our important clients, and..."

This remark had exactly the opposite effect from what the manager intended. Instead of revitalizing the team, the team became even more despondent. "Here we are, working late and coming in on weekends, and this senior manager is telling us about his recent overseas junket."

(After he left, I heard that he still pulled this stunt with his new team. "Over the past two weeks, I've been all over ⟨continent⟩...")

Comments (26)
  1. Joshua says:

    Left … or was kicked out. (This behavior deserved it.)

  2. Graham says:

    That sort of showing off is usually an indication of how little business travel they actually do. I know a few people who travel all over the world with their job, and most would kill for a few weeks continuously in the office. Decent bed every night, see the kids, proper home-cooked meal etc…

  3. DebugErr says:

    "I just got back from a 1st class, all-inclusive trip to ⟨faraway country⟩ which I could effort only with my extremely high income of ⟨number which makes you sick⟩ $ each month, together with my 12 masseuses, and yes, while I was not busy sipping down cocktails on ⟨promintent beach name⟩, I talked to a very important customer about how to boost team morale at work."

  4. Bruce says:

    In the early days of my career, I aspired to travel. Following domestic travel, I aspired to continental travel. Following that, I aspired to inter-contenental travel. Once I acheieved that, I realised how much of a pain it was and I aspired to the authority to be selective about my travel and became increasingly proactive to seek alternatives.

    The pattern was to see the inside of airports, hotels and offices and not much else. That was partly because there was the habit of doing meeting work through the day and base office work (i.e. catch-up) through the evening. And let's not start with the airport security charade/palava.

    I'd agree that early in my career, when managers discussed travel it was demotivating to hear of their trips. Now, I'm just glad it isn't me, although the odd trip is fine.

  5. SI says:

    I don't know anyone who has to regularly do intercontinental bussiness trips who actually enjoys it or wants to do sightseeing afterwards instead of getting home ASAP.

  6. Harold H20 says:

    The beatings will continue until morale improves.

  7. chentiangemalc says:

    reminds me of a snr mgr who recently told us "I'm putting in a $90k swimming pool this year…" While we were looking at $350 above ground option :) That being said I agree with others: travel sounds great to those who aren't doing it, but once you have done travelling for work it's typically not all that its cracked up to be…often just hotel, airport, office, rinse & repeat.

  8. not important says:

    At the company where I work an exec played coy when asked where he spent his vacation. He said that he spent it next to his phone (part of which is true because I was on two 1-hour long conference calls with him during that time).

  9. similarly annoyed says:

    We had one that talked about his castle (it was a ruin, but you had to work to get that out of him), and another, his vineyards in France. Just reg'lar guys, you know?

  10. 12BitSlab says:

    Good managers do not brag about their vacations, their possessions, etc.  They brag about their team and the team's accomplishments.

  11. Steve says:

    I'd guess that when he was meeting those important clients he was also telling them 'I have implemented such-and-such a feature' (as opposed to 'My team have implemented such-and-such a feature').

    Well done you; maybe you'd like to take your part in the 24/7/365 support rota for that feature if *you* implemented it …

  12. ShinyHat says:

    international travel… what's that like?

  13. cheong00 says:

    Actually, I remembered for one company that I worked for, a trip to factory at Cambodia or India does not have this kind of effect. (We all know how it is to have a work trip there.)

    International travels aren't always something your staffs want to have, depending on where is the destination.

  14. Boris says:

    I find that the advantages of such trips are often hard to quantify or justify, especially with everything from email to videoconferencing software around.

  15. Orderly Badger says:

    As others have said these trips aren't usually much fun but are often perceived as such by those not going.  One benefit of doing them regularly is you can build up loyalty points with airlines and hotels to earn free personal holidays!

    While, as Boris says, there are alternatives to physical trips, my experience with working with geographically spread teams is that occasional real world meetings help to humanise the distant voices.

  16. Boris says:

    I'm sure there are negotiations and similar activities where it is beneficial to "feel out the room", as it were, but usually that isn't true for technical discussions. You write up documents, receive comments, revise them, begin development, track and review changesets. If you have to fly on a business trip for a technical purpose, as opposed to convening a videoconference to resolve an especially tricky issue, there's usually something that needs fixing in everyday collaboration tools.

  17. Wow, look at you with your fancy LEFT-POINTING ANGLE BRACKET (U+2329) and RIGHT-POINTING ANGLE BRACKET (U+232A) :-)

  18. John Styles says:

    Ha. Tragically, one of my colleagues was killed in the Lockerbie bombing (in the plane). Our boss gathered everyone together to tell us this (though I personally was pretty sure that was the flight he was on) and also said 'I hope you all realise now that business travel isn't as glamorous as it's made out to be'. [To be fair, whilst he was an insensitive macho idiot, he was an old-school British insensitive macho idiot – you knew where you were with them].

  19. The problem is elsewhere not in the overseas trips. My father always talks about his business trips in team meetings and the result is, most of the times, great.

    Search the actual reason in that manager's general attitude and how he was perceived (John Styles's post above hit the mark) as well as what caused the low morale. When the morale is low, it is a sign that something is seriously wrong; one or two of the words isn't the problem.

  20. Nick says:

    He forgot to end the comment with "All I really wanted to do was be here with my 〈team〉 and spend the evenings at home with my 〈family〉."

  21. Boris says:

    All this typography is making my eyes hurt.

  22. Duke of New York says:

    I'm glad I don't work the kind of toxic team that finds fault in a manager for going to the other side of the world to sell the d— product.

  23. morlamweb says:

    I've found that the people who take issue with, or are envious of, business trips taken by others, generally don't travel on business themselves.  They're not familiar with the misery that often comes with these trips.  Sure, it can be fun to eat out basically every night on the corporate dime, but that gets old quickly, and there's plenty of stuff to dislike about trips (airport security? flight delays? lumbar pain due to long-distance driving?)  You're far from your loved ones for days, weeks, or months at a time.  Sure, phone calls and video calling can ease the longing, but they're a poor substitute for the real thing.  And they can get expensive over long distance.  And video calling is, of course, a relatively recent invention, while business trips are not.  You generally don't have much time for sight-seeing.  The only trip on which I had time to be tourist was on a two-week stay at a customer site and I stayed the weekend (rather than deal with the misery of airports, flying, etc.).  If any tourist attractions are open during the week, then they're generally open during normal business hours, so time spent out of the office is generally limited to restaurants, bars, and hotel rooms.

  24. Big boss says:

    Peons back at work should not complain. It hard to be away travelling in business class.

  25. Boris says:

    Note that the "lang" and "rang" from the source code of Raymond's post are being replaced with squares in iOS Safari, although the angle brackets do show up in some of the comments (perhaps because the characters were inserted directly?)

  26. morlamweb says:

    @Big boss: please, "business class" just means a slightly larger seat in the cattle car.  It's nothing special.  Traveling for business still means being away from loved ones for long periods of time; something that the "peons" back at work don't necessarily suffer.

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