Etiquette for traveling with your boss

Traveling with your boss can be a very good opportunity to build on your relationship away from the pressures of the workplace. It is also a useful way for your boss to observe you and to see how you represent the company outside the office. On your part, a work trip can be a chance to impress your superior with your professionalism and organizational skills. Of course, the relationship and the way it is conducted on the road will vary from one corporate culture to another, and one country to another, but the rules are the same: the key to a successful business trip is to be prepared – and to think about etiquette.

  1. Be professional. Dress comfortably but smartly when traveling with your boss; do not arrive at the airport in tracksuit pants, even for an overnight flight. If you are not sure about the dress code for meetings on the road, always dress up rather than down. Plan your wardrobe, particularly if you are going straight from the airport to a meeting.
  2. Be punctual. Do not cause anybody stress by arriving late at the airport. Always be ready on time for meetings or business dinners. Reconfirm schedules in advance.
  3. Make sacrifices if necessary. If there are upgrades to be had on the flight or in the hotel, be prepared to let your boss have the better seat or room. Superiors in all cultures have some sense of hierarchy and ‘face’, however relaxed the corporate structure.
  4. There is no particular obligation to sit next to your superior on a long flight unless you have agreed to discuss business. Sometimes a little distance can be a good thing; nobody wants to fall asleep on their boss’s shoulder, for example.
  5. The flight is still work time, just in a different setting, and your superior may still be judging your behaviour. Do not drink to excess. Do not discuss confidential business loudly. It is fine to follow the lead of your superior; if they want to read or watch movies, do the same but be prepared for the fact that they may expect you both to use the flight to prepare for the meetings ahead.
  6. Maintain boundaries. While a business trip can be a time for relationship-building and the chances are that you won’t only talk business with your boss, always remain professional. Keep personal problems and issues to yourself. Do not gossip about other people in the office.
  7. Be clear about who is handling logistics. Often, it’s the junior employee who is responsible for tipping porters, hailing cabs and checking all travel arrangements are in place. Never assume that your superior has done this. If it’s your first trip together, make sure you determine before leaving what is expected of you and make sure you have adequate funds; the currency of your destination, for example, and small denomination notes for tips.
  8. Respect the local hierarchy. If you are traveling in Asia, for example, where meetings follow strict protocol, adopt this local culture. You may banter freely with your boss in the office but in countries like China or Japan, junior employees are expected to defer to the boss and in meetings, let them lead the conversation. Do not contradict your superior in front of clients as it will cause them a serious loss of face. Age and status need to be respected.
  9. If you are male and traveling with your boss who is female in strict Muslim cultures, it may be a good idea to discuss the situation together beforehand, as it may be assumed that the male is superior in rank.
  10. Do not necessarily expect your superior to have dinner with you. They may have made their own arrangements, so be prepared to dine alone. Always check whether they need you to arrange restaurant reservations. Make sure you are contactable out of hours in case they need something.
  11. If you are dining with your overseas counterparts, the same observation of hierarchy applies as it does in meetings. Do not argue when traveling with your boss or speak over them. Make sure you are aware of the protocol of seating plans, which in many parts of the world, especially Asia, give a strong message about seniority and status.
  12. When entertaining, it is usual for the senior colleague to pay but again, to avoid the embarrassment of you and your boss both pulling out the company credit card, establish first who should settle up and make sure the restaurant knows who should be handed the bill.
  13. Business dinners with clients are highly likely on the road as part of relationship-building, especially in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. But however much the alcohol flows, pace yourself carefully and do not lose control. A working trip, however enjoyable, is not a holiday.

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About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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