Opinion Piece by Kevin Martin, EVP of Business Development for World Travel, Inc.


It’s all the buzz. Each new techie startup is anxious to create the freshest and coolest work environment, while more established companies just as eagerly pine over making the Forbes’ best 100 companies to work for. But what makes a culture? According to Forbes and a new study by Glassdoor.com, a website that allows employees to rank their company’s culture, all that matters is money. Not just the paycheck, but also the amount and the extravagance of the freebies and entitlements a company offers its employees. Free daycare, free dry cleaning, a paid year off for parental leave, free dog walking, free corporate cafeteria, unlimited paid time off, encouraged daily nap time, areas to nap, areas to play ping pong, pool, etc.  Bring it on! The more you give me, the better I will rate our corporate culture! The less I pay for, the more I love my company!

Almost without exception, people use their travel policy as an indicator of their corporate culture.

Annually, I speak with hundreds of corporate travel managers and buyers, whether prospective clients, valued clients or friends, and we always get around to speaking about company and culture. Almost without exception, people use their travel policy as an indicator of their corporate culture. That’s not surprising. After payroll and benefits, the travel policy is the most personal and emotional form of compensation a company offers its people.  I hear comments like, “Well, people are not too happy around here, because we require our employees to take the least expensive logical airfare without exception.” Or, “It’s not bad, but it could be better. We allow our people to book the least logical within a $1000 difference.” These are by far the most common.

However, the other side of the spectrum exists, as well. “We have an awesome culture and everyone is treated equally. There are no tiers amongst our company; all employees, from the CEO down, are treated the same.” I always smile at that one…. Then there’s the extravagant, “Our travelers are our ambassadors. We need them to feel comfortable and arrive refreshed and ready to go. And that’s why we allow business class on flights four hours or more.”  You think I jest, but that is a real sentiment. And it can be beat by yet another that I’ve heard: “We treat our travelers like gods. When they are forced to travel over land, and not able to walk on water, they can travel however they please.” (Fittingly, the home office for this client was on the top floor of a very expensive building, a corporate Mt. Olympus.)

It's all about the Benjamins.

But here’s my take on these travel perks and punishments: They have absolutely nothing to do with culture and everything to do with money! An internet search for companies with the best culture will consistently serve up Google, Facebook, Twitter, Salesforce.com and now Uber as well. Other than all being technology companies, the common denominator is that each makes a massive amount of profit! The gold ring is not culture; it’s profit! Shareholders are not magnanimous philanthropists who want to enrich the lives of all of corporate America. That’s not how Wall Street works. They’re interested in a return on their investment.

For Google and the like to continue to earn massive profits, they must continue to be the best in their industry. To be the best, they must continue to attract and retain the most talented people in the world. Cue the incentives, perks, and pleasures, which all cost money. It’s that simple. It’s all about the Benjamins.

Your company doesn’t offer free massages every Tuesday? Do other companies in your industry offer them?  If so, it’s likely a cost your industry feels they must tolerate to attract and retain the talent needed for them to compete. However, this type of culture is just as volatile as the stock market.  If there is a downturn and the money dries up, then so too will all those amazing “culture” perks.

Travel policy shouldn't be the standard-bearer of your corporate culture.

My opinion? Don’t cheapen culture with money. Culture shouldn’t be volatile. Culture shouldn’t be dictated by the latest shareholder results. The corporate travel policy shouldn’t be the standard-bearer of your corporate culture. Treat your people fairly and honestly. Pay salaries and benefits that are competitive in your industry. Offer a travel policy that is competitive in your industry. If you do these things, then you have a competitive chance of attracting and retaining great people. To really solidify your corporate culture, your employees must clearly understand, practice and appreciate what makes your company different, in good times and bad. It’s not how much money they make, but why they want to be loyal to you and your customers. If you and your employees know and appreciate what makes you different, then give yourself an award. You don’t need recognition from Forbes, because you already have something far more valuable. The corporate travel policy is the ends; not the means.

Kevin Martin

Written by Kevin Martin