Lagging Behind

One of the primary concepts we are discussing in this class is an American perspective on corporate communication in the European Union. That is, how should an American organization setting up shop in the EU approach this series of complex, diverse and unique publics.

Based on my experience – and, even more so, my two roomates’ experience – in Italy thus far, one approach I would suggest is to take a moment to adjust. What I am specifically referring to is Jet Lag.

Now, I’m well aware that corporate communication is a long-term strategy. So I’m only half serious when I say that arriving from the States a few days before any important dealing with a European business is an important communications strategy. But given the havoc jet lag, combined with some less than superior bed quality, has wreaked on one roommate in particular, it’s something to keep in mind.

In fact, Jonah Lehrer – fresh off his own recent trip abroad – blogged late last week about the cognitive and physical effects of jet lag.

The problem of jet lag is also an interesting case study of stress. Hans Selye, the great Canadian endocrinologist, defined stress as the bodily response to any demand (stressor) that throws our body out of allostatic balance. (The response is an attempt to get that balance back.) Unfortunately for the globalized world, jet lag is one of those things that knocks us off balance. The end result is a large stress response, even if we don’t typically associate duty free shopping, bad plane food and cabin boredom with stress.

This was made clear by a series of clever studies led by Kei Cho, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol. He compared female flight attendants working for two different airlines. One company gave employees a 15 day break after working a transcontinental flight, while the other company gave employees a 5 day break. After controlling for a slew of variables, Cho found that the cabin crew working for the second airline – they were given fewer days to get over their jet lag – showed higher levels of stress hormone, impaired spatial memory and temporal lobe atrophy. This difference remained even when he controlled for the total amount of jet lag, suggesting that giving the mind time to adjust and recover is the crucial variable.

What are the implications of this for the CEO or communications official traveling abroad? Well, it’s probably important to avoid andy media appearances within the first day or two, especially if the subject is of a contentious nature*. Important negotiations would probably benefit from a few days rest as well.

Understandably, in our fast-paced world adding adjustment time for jet lag isn’t always a possibility. Still, it may be useful for a communications practitioner to keep in mind the very real effects of the time change when prepping either an organizational official or ones’ self for a trip abroad.

-Zack Sherwood

*of course, a case can be made both ways too – for the European going to the States. This doesn’t help explain BP CEO Tony Hayward’s numerous gaffes in the wake of the Gulf Spill, though, as most of those were made from his organization’s home office in London.

“Under the Plane” courtesy emrank via Flickr Creative Commons