Three lessons from Jet Airways on how not to treat employees

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Jet Airways employees protesting

Last week, Jet Airways in India fired almost 1000 employees (and then re-instated them after a huge furor). In bad times, it’s natural for companies to cut costs, and reducing headcount is one of the ways to do that. But it was the method of communication that infuriated employees and resulted in widespread public protests.

Just like airlines cannot treat customers badly, they cannot treat employees badly too. After all, happy employees make for happy customers, who then form positive impressions of their interaction with the brand. One of the most successful airlines in the world, Southwest, treats their employees like customers and the results are there for all to see. Here are a few things other airlines can do to keep employees happy, by treating them humanly.

No surprises, please!

Most of the Jet Airways employees were hardly given any notice of the upcoming lay-offs. They were informed either a day before they were asked to leave, or on the day itself, in some cases. The news came to them as a shock, especially from a company whose CEO has often preached a family-like culture (which was also used as a reason for reinstatement). When delivering a bad news, surprise is not good. There has to be ample notice, and key employee champions need to be taken into confidence before any such announcement is made. Moreover, a transition plan must be in place.

Come, talk to me

Even more important than the plans is the way the message is communicated. A number of Jet Airways employees received “pink slips” on their mobile phones via text messages. Some received emails.  That seems to be the absolute height of disregard for employee welfare. Not only did the employees felt detached and unloved, they felt like they were being kicked out of the company. It’s only natural to expect the resulting protests against the decision. Good communication is key to keeping the brand trust intact – just like dealing with customers. Such decisions need to be communicated face-to-face and in-person so that both parties have a chance to explain their side of the story well. Even if the employee has to be let go, he or she would understand well the reason for expulsion.

Employees are the most important brand ambassadors

In his book, “A New Brand World“, Scott Bedbury, talks about the value of brand alignment inside a company.”Though it is important to demonstrate consistently to the outside world that you know what your brand is about, ultimately, it is even more important to first demonstrate this internally…” Jet Airways has ambitions of being the “Singapore Airlines of India”. They have made good progress in that direction too.

Now, the important thing is to stay on that course and not allow glitches like these affect the brand. The importance of emplyees as brand ambassadors cannot be understated, and Jet Airways missed a trick with this employee sacking saga. Once brand trust is broken, it’s difficult to earn back. Hopefully the reinstatement of the emplyees will calm some nerves. But no one can tell the extent of the damage done to the brand right now.

What do you think? Although Jet Airways is a private company and has a right to hire and fire, were the employees treated right? How could the situation be better dealt with? How can other airlines do this better? Let’s hear it in the comments…

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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