been a tortuous summer for British Airways and the worst may not be over yet.
The return of industrial unrest, almost farcical operational difficulties,
stiff competition from no frills airlines and steep oil price rises have come together
to create a crisis situation. The company’s branding as ‘the nation’s favourite
airline’ is wearing seriously thin.
management and the handling of people issues are at the heart of this sorry
tale. BA has chronic problems with sickness absence, staff turnover and morale.
Legions of employees, from pilots to check-in workers, have been lining up to
take a pop at the employer they now fear does not respect them. If industry commentators are to be believed, trust between BA
managers and staff is now at all-time low and requires urgent repair if the
employer brand is not to be damaged further.
Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work Foundation told Personnel Today
readers a year ago (5 August, 2003), BA needs a more European, social partnership
approach to organising work where employees have a voice in how the business is
reshaped. BA is attempting to increase
employee involvement, but it’s taking a while to reap any dividends.
airline is far from making a sensible level of profit and has deep-rooted
problems all across the organisation. BA’s director for people, Neil Robertson,
has been open about the challenges his HR team faces this week (see page 1) and
this candid approach will be critical to any turnaround. But the people issues
will require much more resolve than simply offering quick fixes such as free
flights for 17,500 staff to appease their stress and disruption.
bill for this perk could be as much as £4m at a time when BA needs to be taking
costs out of the business. What outcome does BA want from this move? Staff are routinely entitled to free flights, so improved
goodwill, motivation or attitude could be remote.
Robertson and his team will need all the support they can get in the months
ahead. There will be some fascinating
lessons for the profession out of BA’s recovery or otherwise.
By Jane King, editor