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Higher ed employee travel: A cat and mouse game

Some tips for prevent policies from being manipulated
University Business, May 2015

Roughly six years ago, David Lewis served on a team that was designing policies for a new college in the Middle East. As president of OperationsInc., a national HR consulting and outsourcing firm, he met with seven top U.S. higher ed institutions to review their policies, including travel.

To Lewis, travel has now become “a game”—with institutional officials figuring out ways to prevent employees from manipulating policies.

To help convert rogue employees into team players, he offers the following tips:

  • Develop realistic policies based on market research. “If you’re telling people they can spend only $XX per day in terms of their travel expenses, make sure it’s reasonable given the place they’re going to, that they can actually survive on that budget,” says Lewis. “That’s usually the biggest disconnect I find.”
  • Create reimbursement tiers for hotels and other vendors in major markets. Make sure flat dollar amounts are proportional in each market. By being more fair to employees, “you are then holding them more accountable and keeping a box around them so as to limit any type of fraud, over-expenditures and looseness in terms of how those expenses are incurred,” he says. 
  • Develop easily understood travel policies. Convert lengthy, written policies into a verbal presentation or YouTube video that explains key points. The policy should include a summary sheet with bulleted points on specific topics such as meal reimbursements. If online, offer links to more details. Likewise, when travel policies change, email a summary memo to employees that highlights the differences.

“Don’t underestimate the level of animosity that starts to creep into this process,” says Lewis. To employees, he adds, “it rarely feels collaborative.”

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