Job Stress Could Be Big Problem For Troubled Airlines

Update 4/2/2012: U.S. airlines are performing at the highest level in 22 years, according to a joint study by Purdue University and Wichita State University http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-0402-airline-ratings-20120331,0,4579423.story

Yesterday, a JetBlue flight originating in New York and heading to Las Vegas made an emergency landing after its veteran pilot Clayton Osbon began acting erratically. Earlier this month, a flight attendant for American Airlines, which is currently in bankruptcy and just announced it would need to cut 13,000 employees pending approval from the bankruptcy court, disrupted a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Chicago, ranting about the plane’s crashing and making references to 9-11. Both incidents come after years of turmoil in the airline industry, due to the high cost of fuel, competition, cost of increased security – the bulk of which the government passed to the airlines – and many airlines merging or folding. “Both of these events could be medical in nature and have nothing to do with the current state of those airlines. However, the industry has seen massive changes and huge job cuts announcements in recent years. Workers are worried about their jobs, and with the situation overseas, possibly worried about their security. No doubt workers in the transportation, specifically air transport, are feeling increased amounts of stress, and incidents such as these only add to the pressure,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Since January 2011, airlines have announced over 18,000 job cuts, mostly due to acquisitions, bankruptcy or cost-cutting. How can employees cope with uncertainty in their jobs? Workers can take control of their situations by shoring up their resume, reconnecting with their professional networks, and seeking solace from their colleagues. Additionally, workers can display their indispensability to their employers. “Showing employers you are indispensable is good for job security. However, if workers are feeling stress to the point of breaking, it may be beneficial for their employers to survey the workforce or implement programs to gauge and boost morale. While these incidents may be isolated, it would be best to know for sure that it is not widespread.”

For employers:

Bring people together. It’s best not to ignore negative situations. An informal social gathering or meal together will allow workers to develop a new sense of team and purpose.

Check with individual employees. Meet with each of your employees as soon after an incident. Take time to explore their emotions and see how they are adjusting.

Take Employee Pulse. Boosting employee morale starts with knowing where morale stands. Find out how workers are feeling or what areas of the job are causing stress. Create a plan to combat these issues and ease job stress. It may be necessary to involve a professional counselor.

Give rewards.  A little praise goes a long way. Acknowledge and praise past contributions to the organization. Institute “Summer Fridays” allowing workers to leave early, give gift cards for outstanding work, use sporting events to start office pools, wear jerseys or order pizza.

For employees:

Bring people together.  Today, diversity is more than a buzzword.  Companies value people at all skill levels who can ameliorate differences among groups.  Often the ability to resolve conflicts comes from experience in community and volunteer work.  Companies rely on coalition builders in an increasingly team-oriented workplace.

Look for trouble.  Adopting an employer attitude towards problem solving and seeking out difficult assignments is a sure way for employees to get noticed.  Individuals who gear their work lives in this direction can help make themselves “untouchable” during a downsizing or reorganization.

Non-stop learning.  Enthusiastic employees who are eager to learn, especially in the areas of technology and global business issues, are more likely to find a secure niche within their companies.  Employers place high value on an employee who soaks up new information and uses it to enhance the job.

Cross job borders.  People who display flexibility and perform several tasks well often can do the jobs of two or more employees, saving payroll.  The most valued employees, no matter the size of the company, take the initiative to obtain additional work assignments; they do not wait to be assigned extra tasks.

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