WE retrenched people during the pandemic and (when) we try to call them back… they think twice.
Captain Izham Ismail, group CEO of Malaysia Airlines, apparently said this in his address to industry representatives at a panel session during the Aviation Festival Asia in Singapore recently.
Was he surprised by the reactions of these former staff or he thought that, by being honest, it will take the pressure and focus away from him and the airline for any shortcomings it presently experiences?
Was he surprised why former staff did not want to come back? They did not leave voluntarily. They were retrenched.
In every case, when a company scales back and retrenches its staff, the ones to go are all mid- to low-level staff.
Senior management rarely get retrenched or are asked to take a pay cut, especially in a government-linked or owned entity.
Life for senior management proceeds as usual with the normal perks accorded.
Immediately when the movement control order (MCO) was imposed and the airline was grounded, employees were crying out for support. Understandably, most were concerned about their job security.
Yes, Malaysia Airline is also struggling with a multitude of challenged posed by the pandemic because it differed fundamentally from previous economic downturn and recovery cycles.
MAG is not only the airline but not everyone understands what is really going on. Some make ineffective moves based on faulty assumptions, but generally all failed in one area.
There were no concerted efforts made to better understand their employees before deciding on cost cutting and retrenchment.
The primary goal of senior management is to preserve their own and the company’s survival, and the easiest way out was to cut costs immediately, the most drastic and easiest of which was to make employees redundant, specifically the mid- to low-level staff.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
If Izham and his team had make a concerted effort to better understand the situation instead of taking the easy way out, meaningful action could have been taken to retain them.
MAG could become the great attraction now.
By seizing the unique moment at that time, MAG could have gained an edge in the race to attract, develop, and retain the talent it needed to create a thriving post pandemic airline.
Obviously, it won’t be easy at that point in time to do so.
However, the senior management should have taken the initiative to re-imagine how they will lead, manage and develop a much deeper empathy for what their employees are going through.
Then managers could pair that empathy with the compassion and determination to act and change – together with those employees.
They would have properly re-examined the wants and needs of their employees, and retained and re-skilled them.
The management is obviously misguided if it thinks that when the airline business rebounds, former staff will be jumping at the opportunity of getting rehired.