It is not illegal to ask employees to share rooms on business trips. Employers ask employees to share rooms for a variety of reasons, but should they? Cons come from employees who seem to universally dislike the practice. The pros come from executives and owners who are often not subjected to the same rules. They are more concerned with costs than with their employees' comfort in many cases.
Reasons to Require Employee Room-Sharing
Employers defend the practice of employees sharing rooms for these reasons:
- The employer wants to cut the cost of travel and entertainment. Economically, sharing rooms affects an employee’s ability to attend conferences, training, and business meetings because, without the shared rooms, only half of the eligible employees would be able to attend the event.
- Some employers argue that sharing a room builds camaraderie and a sense of teamwork. They say that sharing rooms help employees get to know each other on a whole new level.
- In some circumstances, the employer may not have obtained the work contract if the cost savings of employees sharing rooms had not been factored into the bid. Employers argue that employees would rather have the work than their privacy.
Negatives About Employees Sharing Rooms When Traveling for Business
On the contrary view, employees should never be asked to share a room with a coworker, not under any circumstances including saving money during tough economic times. While it may not be a legal issue—although you can certainly conjure up harassment scenarios under certain circumstances—it is a respect issue.
Employees who travel for business to benefit their employer should be treated with the respect and regard that they deserve. This includes privacy, a place for downtime away from coworkers, and the opportunity to relax without having to worry about the opinions, feelings, habits, and stuff of a coworker.
These are the potential downsides of requiring employees to share rooms while traveling for business.
- You are possibly in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by placing an employee with an accommodated medical condition in a situation where he or she does not have full privacy for the medications, medical equipment, or room accommodations they may require. By requiring employees to share rooms, you violate their privacy and may cause them to disclose medical information they don’t want to share. Even if you require sharing rooms, an employee with a medical condition should be able to ask for a single room.
- The potential benefits of camaraderie and team-building are overwhelmed by the lack of privacy and the stress engendered by sharing a space with a stranger with whom the employee is not intimate. Employees are vulnerable when they sleep, and even well-liked coworkers in the same room can interfere with sleep. And, in a shared setting, the employee gets no real downtime after working or traveling all day.
- If you respect your employees, your employees should not have to listen to a coworker snore, smell their stinky socks, work around their toiletries in the bathroom, share the soap in the shower, listen in on their phone calls, deal with their clothing and hygiene habits, or put up with their late-night work habits.
- Working effectively with coworkers requires a certain amount of respect and privacy. Asking employees, who maintain their self-determined professional distance from each other at work, to violate these rules of conduct on the road destabilizes patterns of interacting. Employees develop their comfort zones and behaviors that help them cope with the workplace over time.
- Employers cannot expect that the disruption of these distance and space needs will benefit employees. Seeing your coworker walk around a hotel room wearing a towel when you're used to seeing her across a conference table wearing a business suit creates discomfort. While some employees may be unphased, others will be deeply uncomfortable. Why risk it?
- An employee who is giving up hours of his or her free time, spending time away from family for a business purpose, should have a private room to retire to for breaks and in the evening. The employee should be able to call home without an audience, drink a few cocktails without a disapproving observer, work until the wee hours of the morning, or call it an early night without worrying about the needs of a coworker.
- Employees who have just spent breakfast, lunch, and dinner together plus attended all-day meetings with fellow employees deserve a place for solitude and rejuvenation. Sharing a room is not a team-building event and it may result in damaged work relationships even if both of the employees are respectful and mindful of adult behavior.
- Business travel is stressful enough, and your employees are already voluntarily giving you hours of their time, without adding one more layer of potential stress and offensiveness. Give your employees the respect they deserve. Unless good friends ask to room together, employees should never be asked to share rooms.
Alternative Ways to Cut Travel Expenses
The Bottom Line
The problem remains. Business travel costs continue to escalate and employers need to control costs. Hopefully, you're convinced that making employees share rooms is not the best answer—and may, in fact, undermine anything you had hoped to achieve. If you're a large corporation with a travel department, you have likely implemented these solutions and suggestions already. But, any employer will find these alternatives useful.