Learning from the travel sector

Isabel
Choat outlines how HR can learn from the travel sector’s approach to dealing
with a crisis

The
past two years have not been good for the travel industry: September 11, the
war in Iraq and the SARS virus have all taken their toll on holiday bookings,
forcing businesses to make cuts. So what lessons can HR professionals in all
sectors learn from the travel industry’s experience?

How
to communicate job losses

All
communication must be as thorough as possible. HR must have all the facts to
hand and ideally issue a question and answer sheet to staff. Fearful rumours
can disrupt business and the more people know, the less worried they will feel.
Don’t dress up any announcements in business jargon – making people redundant
is a painful process; you can’t pretend it’s not.

How
to ensure the right people are made redundant

The
old philosophy of ‘last in, first out’ is not longer appropriate. The best
approach is to build up a list of redundancy criteria and apply it to everyone.
The criteria should be as fair and objective as possible, and there should be
clear job descriptions and person specifications, so that you know the criteria
you are measuring against will help you keep the right people.

If
you are making a lot of redundancies you should consider an outplacement
service or recruitment company to help people find new jobs.

How
to keep up morale in difficult trading times

Morale
can be low due to fear and uncertainty, and this is the biggest challenge for
HR. Staff aren’t stupid and will spot a bluff a mile off, so the best policy is
regular, open and honest communication. Employees may be reading a lot of
negative stories in the national press about the industry generally or your
business specifically, so lots of positive information should also be fed
through wherever possible.

Why
HR must be on the board

It
is critical that HR is part of the decision-making process, whether it is on
the board or the executive. You need to be involved in the business, so that
you can advise other senior managers on the impact of their decisions and
represent your employees.

How
to ensure board representation

Most
businesses recognise the importance of having an HR person on the board, but if
you are not, you can still influence business-critical decisions. It is very
important that you put forward the human resources views in all scenarios –
especially during difficult trading or times of crisis. 

If
you are not on the board, you can still sit down with key senior figures to
ensure you have all the business information you need, and that they are aware
of the needs and concerns of the staff you represent.

It
is very difficult to reverse a decision once it had been made, so it is
essential that board members are sure about the human resources repercussions
of any decision before they make it.

Isabel
Choat spoke to Julia Feuell at New Frontiers, the Transport Salaried Staff
Association (TSSA), which represents 3,500 travel industry staff, and executive
director, HR, at Thomas Cook, Fiona Rodford.

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