Singapore Airline Human Resource Management
- Main Assignment – CASE STUDY : HIGH FLYERS
Source : Teh, E.C. & Girardi, A. (2015) Organisation Development & Change : Practice Manual, Readings & Case Studies, 5th edition, Cengage Learning, Australia
Adapted with permission from the author Antonia Girardi
Up until 1990, the Singapore government’s “two airline policy”, not to mention its ownership of airline terminals, ensured a comfortable arrangement between the government owned airline, Singapore Airline, and its only national competitor, Silvertail Airlines. For the most part, the policy served the public well – provided they were prepared to accept high fares and limited schedules. The government sanctioned duopoly also meant that neither airline had to work too hard at attracting passengers. As far as the management in both airlines was concerned, they were doing a good job.
In the 1980s, however, the winds of change began to blow and under increasing pressure, the government set about deregulating the air transport sector. At first the changes had little effect and the few airlines that entered the market to challenge the duopoly soon failed. Thus, despite deregulation, the duopoly seemed set to continue with only a few cosmetic changes occurring. Then, almost overnight, the market was turned on its head with the introduction of low cost carriers on both the domestic and international market. The effect on Silvertail was immediate and dramatic. Its share price fell and following angry responses from institutional investors, the Board of Directors was replaced with a board comprising bright and zesty marketers, advertisers, accountants, and smattering of ‘experts’ imported from the United States of America all of whom were under the leadership of an innovative and open-minded CEO. The new board moved quickly : leaner and meaner became the mantra. Bloated, topheavy management structures were dismantled and in the restructuring that followed, most middle management positions disappeared, maintenance was outsourced and regional branches were closed.
After much turmoil, including very disruptive industrial action, Silvertail emerged as an airline with a new image. Gone was its staid image and in its place was an airline that promoted itself as new, young and innovative. There was a problem, however, because despite seemingly generous redundancy offers, many of the public face of Silvertail, namely, the cabin crew and ground crew, declined to accept them. This became the subject of an informal meeting between the Recruitment Manager, Sam Milroy, and Bobbi Stephens, the cabin crew director. The conversation went something like this :
Sam : Our target market, the budget conscious traveller and the under 30s, isn’t going to respond to our new image if most of the cabin crew is old enough to be their mother. Bobbi : I know what you mean. Some of them are decidedly frumpy – nice enough in their own way and good at what they do but they don’t seem to have much enthusiasm and initiative.
Sam : Right, that’s my observation too but we can’t get rid of them just because they are old. Imagine the publicity, not to mention the potential to be sued. Years ago they would have been shifted into a desk job or some sort of management position but those days have gone. Bobbi : Why not make life difficult for them. What’s the old saying? ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’. Sam : Go on. Bobbi : Well, why not? They’ve had it too good for too long. The younger ones won’t notice much but the oldies will. Sam : Such as? Bobbi : How about reducing the number of cabin crew per flight and assigning ground crew duties to the others? Or, what if we make life less comfortable between flights? Things like three star hotels instead of five star hotels. Sam : I see what you are getting at. If we are looking at perks, let’s get rid of some of the other ones like travel concessions and preferential rosters for so-called ‘family reasons’, keep them away from home longer, put them on the long haul flights. The young ones won’t mind, they’re more resilient and don’t have family concerns anyway. That/s what our competitors are doing. Bobbi : A good strategy is to promote the younger ones. Nothing annoys an older guy more than someone twenty years younger telling him what to do, especially if the old guy thinks he should have had the job. That reminds me …. when I was consulting for another company, they used qualifications to get rid of its older workers. All that happened was to stipulate that to be eligible for promotion, all employees had to have a second language and a degree. It was easy for the new hires because the only ones who applied for jobs knew they had to be bilingual and have a degree. For the old ones – much harder. The company said it would pay for language classes and a degree but the degree had to be completed in five years. Any longer and the employee paid for the rest – or repaid the employer. Believe me, it would be pretty hard to complete a degree if you are a member of the cabin crew. Sam : Good one. All we have to do is rewrite the job description and position description. We could even make it harder for them to complete our internal competency requirements. I’m thinking of our training for cabin safety and any other physical stuff we can think of. I’m not that old but I know I’m not as fit as I was ten years ago. If we make the tasks challenging for a twenty-five year old, imagine how a forty or fifty year old will go. If they can’t meet the standard, they can’t work as cabin crew. But some might, so how do we deal with them?
Acting as a HR consultant was called in to help Sam and Bobbi deal with the ‘older worker’ problem, you are to produce a HR plan that covers the following areas :
Critically analyse the current situation and the implications if the company were to adopt the plan suggested by Sam and Bobbi
Critically evaluate the downsizing tactics and their implications to Silvertail
Using the Appreciative Inquiry, provide recommendations on how the management could address the various alternatives to downsizing.
Provide a HR plan to address the future HR needs, including building employer’s brand for Silvertail, training, career management etc of cabin crew etc.