British Airways narrowly averted a disaster this holiday season when a vote to strike was held illegal by the British high courts. The company is facing a showdown with its employees and many believe that the root of the problem is an unrealistic attitude towards pay and privilege from the staff. The question rolling through every company is how do your staff’s expectations affect the success of your company? When dealing with your staff”s expectations, there are four points to consider:
1. Unrealistic staff expectations can accelerate the fall of a struggling company. The staff at British Airways earns at least twice the salary of their counterparts and enjoy lavish perks such as staying in four star hotels and eating in the most expensive restaurants while the company picks up the tab. The extravagant spending has been ingrained as a right instead of the privilege it is and now is the impetus of a strike for the struggling airline; as the company looks to cut costs it has found itself at war with the culture of excess within its staff.
2. Excess is easy to introduce, but hard to eliminate. While no one supports rewarding and encouraging performance within your staff more than I do, I am completely pessimistic about giving the shiniest and most expensive gift. In terms of rewards, if you give your sales staff a new car for closing a big money account, limited cash flow will not be a sufficient reason to discontinue that trend. Your employees will continually refer back to the ‘good ole days’ when their hard work was really appreciated and any attempt after the downgrade will seem insincere and unappreciative. Rewards should be appropriate for the work and the result. As an employer the best thing you can give your employee is the opportunity to go further and gain more.
3. Hard work will become a peripheral issue. As staff become accustomed to an ‘only the finest’ mentality, the idea of hard work will become a secondary issue and may occur only in ideal settings. As business owners, we all know that ideal settings are not the average business environment. Every company will be faced with a situation that is less than ideal, but a well run company will strive to be highly effective even in the face of less than perfect circumstances.
4. Material offerings become a substitute for effective communication. British Airways began their pay structure and staff perks with the best intentions, they believed that in paying the best they would employ the best. When this structure began in the 1970’s they did, they achieved what they set out to. But as the industry and competition has changed within the airline industry, their approach has not. The culture of expectation has been thoroughly ingrained and it is very hard to get back to basics without the promise of champagne and caviar. The mistake made by British Airways was akin to an overindulgent parent desperately trying to compensate for an extended absence. You cannot buy staff loyalty or quality of service. These are traits that occur because great service is your ultimate goal and your staff understands that to be the ultimate goal of their position. You cannot substitute constructive feedback with a cash bonus or necessary training with a higher salary; effective communication comes from the helm of the company. It begins with an executive knowledge of your staff responsibilities and a strategic plan that focuses on growth and development with your chosen market and within the ranks of your staff.
For more information of the British Airways scenario see:
O’Connell, D. and Swinford, S. (2009, December 20). The Great BA Tug of War. The Sunday Times. Retrieved December 28, 2009 from http://www.timesonline.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx.