American Airlines surveyed their workforce in a major endeavor called “American Voice.” And it took responses from 59,197 employees or 53% of mainline American to learn what I’ve been saying for some time: more pay alone doesn’t translate to happy employees.
Employees have to feel they’re paid fairly, but they also have to like and respect their colleagues and feel they’re on a mission not just punching a clock for a paycheck before they’re going to be happy at work and that happiness then translates into productivity and customer service.
- Only 41% of American Airlines employees believe that the airline’s management makes “the right decisions that take care of customers” and only 32% believe American’s leaders listen to and “seek to understand the frontline team member experience.”
- Only 33% believe leadership makes “the right decisions that support” employees. Fewer than half believe they have “the flexibility to meet the needs of our customers who fly American” when things go wrong.
- Only 38.9% say that “people at American trust and respect each other.”
- Only 34.3% think that the workplace has improved in the past 12 months. Notably that’s the timeframe during which employees have been getting big raises.
55% of employees feel they understand “the goals and objectives of American” which is impressive because – besides never losing money again – I didn’t walk away from media and investor day understanding those goals and objectives.
In fairness the news wasn’t all bad. Employees feel they have meaningful relationships at work (77.6%) and see themselves working at American three years from now (83.1% will stick around with more seniority).
I spoke with Patrick O’Keeffe, American Airlines Senior Vice President – People, who was candid about the results, he suggested the most important thing for American is now having a “robust set of data” that they can work from. He says they need to work on the bond between “team and company” and “changing the culture” is their goal.
Towards that end they’re going to enter a “listening phase.” They haven’t seen data at the station level, work group, or demographics yet. So they don’t have an action plan yet, though they expect “some quick wins, some things that will take longer” and that it’ll be late spring before plans concretize.
His overall take was that the survey and its results represent “an opportunity for us” and that receiving over 260,000 comments is incredible engagement from American employees. They’ll be doing both “pulse surveys” where local teams focus on questions without waiting for another company wide survey, as well as future company surveys (“maybe next year”) in order to assess progress.
Still the results of this survey do seem a big problem (‘opportunity’) for American. They’re also entirely predictable.
- The airline laid out its belief at media and investor day that employees are going to be the differentiator between airlines since if an airline invests in its product, other airlines will just copy.
- But raises alone don’t make employees happy, more productive, or offer better service. Especially when they see even a small portion of fellow employees do just as well providing poor service without working as hard. If the people you work with shirk, putting out maximum effort feels futile.
American is cramming more seats into planes, degrading the customer experience. They’re offering Basic Economy as a product so intentionally bad their hope is that customers will spend more money to avoid it. And it’s the frontline employees who bear the brunt of unhappy customers the majority of whom are receiving less value than ever before from the airline, offering a product that employees can’t really be proud of.
That’s why American has higher costs but not a revenue premium or happier customers.