Since its inception, the global aviation industry has been a highly competitive and innovative sector shaped by a wide range of economic, technological, and operational factors. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an unprecedented challenge, leading to a significant slump in the business and altering the way airlines function. Since the COVID pandemic was finally brought to an end, airline firms all over the world have been forced to deal with the most serious HRM/ER-related concern, which is workforce reorganization and strategic management of personnel.
In the age that followed COVID, one of the most significant and pervasive HRM related challenges that airlines were forced to face was the requirement that they reorganize their staffs. This challenge emerged due to a number of interrelated reasons, such as a steep decrease in passenger demand, the installation of trip constraints, and the inescapable requirement to realign labour capacity with the restricted operational scope (Kumaka, 2022). These factors all contributed to the problem. As airlines explored taking extreme actions such as layoffs, furloughs, early retirement, retraining, or redeployment, human resource management were put to the test. They were entrusted with finding a balance between the requirement to cut costs and the imperative of ensuring that staff remain motivated in the work that they do. In this research, we will analyze the impact that workforce restructuring had on airline firms, as well as the various tactics those companies implemented in order to meet the issues they faced.
In the year 2020, the first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 pandemic were discovered, and ever since that time, the virus has rapidly disseminated across the remainder of the planet. The airline industry was faced with a severe difficulty as a result of an unexpected decline in demand, restrictions placed on travel, and the requirement to align people capacity with reduced operations (Singh et al., 2021). As a direct result of the difficult decisions that airlines were forced to make regarding downsizing, introducing furloughs, encouraging early retirements, and retraining or redeploying workers, there were considerable repercussions for Human Resource Management (HRM). These repercussions had an impact on HRM in a variety of ways. All of these actions had an effect on the relationships between the employees.
Businesses in the airline industry found themselves in a vulnerable position as a direct result of the quick spread of COVID-19 and the following execution of flying bans. As a direct result of the precipitous decline in demand, there was a reduction in the quantity of airline tickets that were sold. Airline companies have seen a decline in their revenue as a result of being compelled to fast modify their workforce levels in order to adapt to the new reality. (Van Rooyen et al., 2021) As a direct consequence of this, the entire industry has been compelled to make considerable alterations to the ways in which they manage HRM. As a result of the fall in demand for air travel, many airlines have been forced to downsize their operations and lay off employees. In October 2020, for instance, American Airlines has declared that it will lay off 19,000 personnel; Lufthansa has said that it will lay off 22,000 (Sobieralski, 2020). Human resource management were put to the test by this extreme action, as airlines had to cope with the emotional fallout from the decision, pay employees fairly, and prevent union battles.
Some airlines implemented furloughs to keep workers while temporarily lowering payroll costs. Delta Air Lines, for example, conducted furloughs but continued benefits for affected employees to show that it cared about them. Human resource management (HRM) departments were in charge of planning and explaining furloughs, which required compassion and understanding for workers going through a tough period (Charernnit & Treruttanaset, 2023). Airline companies preferred early retirement to layoffs as a way of personnel reduction. This allowed long-serving workers to leave with dignity while simultaneously putting pressure on human resources to facilitate the transfer of institutional knowledge to new staff. To avoid having to implement mandatory layoffs, British Airways, for one, gave workers the choice of retiring early. Some airlines, like as Qantas, saw the need to retrain and redeploy workers into new roles as demand for traditional jobs declined. Qantas demonstrated creative human resource management by retraining flight attendants to work as ground workers during the epidemic (Sobieralski, 2020).
One of the greatest HRM issues airlines encountered during workforce reorganization was striking a balance between cost-cutting measures and employee well-being and motivation. Even when airlines reduced staff and expenses, they were responsible for keeping the people they had left competent, invested, and inspired (Kuno, 2021). The airlines have recognized the significance of their employees' well-being at this difficult time. To help their employees cope with the mental and emotional stress of the crisis, some companies, including Delta Air Lines, provided them with complimentary therapy sessions. This proved the importance of HRM in promoting the emotional well-being of workers.
The rise of remote and flexible work has forced HRM departments to change in order to better serve the needs of their employees. Emirates, for instance, gave its office workers the option of working from home and supplied them with everything they needed to do their jobs effectively. As a result of the shift, there was a need for improved methods of leading distributed teams and monitoring their output. Collaboration with labour unions was critical in overseeing the restructuring of the workforce. In order to reach a consensus on topics like furloughs and leave policy, United Airlines teamed up with labor organizations (Al-Hawary & Al-Rasheedy, 2021). To ensure that workers' rights were preserved during these trying times, it was crucial to maintain open lines of communication and work in tandem with unions. To keep its experienced workforce in place and provide its employees room to grow, Singapore Airlines provided pilots with training to help them make the move to positions in other departments.
The exceptional difficulties posed by the COVID-19 epidemic necessitated novel and strategic approaches to HRM in response to workforce reorganization in the global airline industry. It was a huge challenge for airlines to keep their employees happy and productive while cutting costs. With the help of concrete examples and connections to applicable HRM theories, this section investigates the HRM solutions to this problem at length (Kuno, 2021).
In times of workforce restructuring, redundancy management is an essential part of human resource management. In order to keep employee morale high and reduce the number of mandatory layoffs, airlines devised a number of different programs. British Airways instituted a policy wherein workers could divide their time between two jobs or take unpaid time off. This method not only saved money but also helped the company hold on to its best employees. The airline proved it cared about its workers' happiness and safety by allowing them to set their own schedules. HRM theories of employee retention support this action, which recognizes the value of keeping on board knowledgeable workers even in the face of adversity (Atems & Yimga, 2021). The costs of hiring new employees and providing them with necessary training are reduced when existing employees are kept on.
Airline companies, realizing the importance of keeping on board their most experienced employees, have started initiatives to do just that. This required personnel to undergo reeducation and redeployment in order to fulfill new functions. During the epidemic, some of the cabin crew for Australia's Qantas airline were sent to work in the carrier's terminals. They took a creative strategy to retaining and reusing talent by capitalizing on these workers' customer service expertise in a new setting. Recognizing and making use of employees' skills is a major tenet of the HRM philosophy of skill inventory and usage (Fasanya et al., 2022). Qantas was able to adapt to the needs of a shifting operational environment by making use of the knowledge and experience of its cabin staff.
Taking care of and motivating your staff is especially important during times of distress. Programs were put in place by airlines to help employees' mental health and increase their level of participation. Delta Air Lines provided free counseling to its staff to help them cope with the psychological and emotional stress brought on by the pandemic (Atems & Yimga, 2021). Employees benefited greatly from this, and it also helped improve their health and morale.
As telecommuting and other forms of remote/flexible work became more common, airlines had a chance to transform with the times. Human resource management was crucial in making these shifts possible. Emirates enabled their office workers the flexibility to work from home and supplied them with the resources they needed to do their jobs effectively (Rita et al., 2022). The airline's responsiveness and concern for its employees' well-being throughout the epidemic were on full display in this strategy. Human resource management theorists agree that it's crucial to be able to quickly adjust to new situations. Those airline carriers who embraced flexible scheduling and telecommuting early on showed they could quickly adjust to new circumstances.
Human resource (HR) automation and technology helped optimize scheduling and planning during times of staff reorganization. To improve crew scheduling, Southwest Airlines has incorporated AI-driven technologies. These solutions reduced downtime by listening to staff concerns and making adjustments where necessary. HRM ideas concerning the spread of new technologies agree with this answer. Strategic human resource management advocates for the use of technology to improve the efficiency of HR operations; as such, the implementation of AI-driven solutions for workforce planning and scheduling is consistent with this philosophy.
Protecting workers' rights during a workforce restructure was a top priority, and collaboration with labour unions was essential to achieving this. In order to reach a consensus on topics like furloughs and leave policy, United Airlines teamed up with labour organizations. Maintaining peace between management and staff was made easier by the unions' contributions. Human resource management ideas about how to deal with unions are reflected in this partnership. Labour disputes can be reduced, compliance with labour regulations can be ensured, and a productive work environment can be fostered through well-managed labor relations (Scheiwiller & Zizka, 2021).
In order to retain top talent and prepare current workers for new positions, it was crucial to invest in training and development programs. To keep its experienced workforce in place and provide its employees room to grow, Singapore Airlines provided pilots with training to help them make the move to positions in other departments. This attitude is consistent with HRM ideas that stress the need of investing in staff members' personal and professional development through training and education (Atems & Yimga, 2021). These kind of efforts help produce a workforce that is both more capable and flexible.
An important HRM solution was the modification of performance management systems to accommodate remote work and to ensure that employees are held accountable for their assigned tasks. During the pandemic, Cathay Pacific put into place performance measurements that took into account how responsive and adaptable their staff was. This method ensured that workers were held to the same standards of accountability regardless of their physical location (Sobieralski, 2020).
In conclusion, the workforce transformation that occurred in the global aviation sector after COVID ushered in a new era of complex HRM difficulties. The response from the airline industry was the development of creative techniques that were in accordance with HRM theories pertaining to employee retention, skill utilization, well-being, flexibility, technology adoption, labor relations, training, and performance management. These responses not only assisted airlines in overcoming the crisis, but also positioned them to be resilient and adaptable in the era following the epidemic. They emphasized the critical role that HRM play in determining the industry's response to never-before-seen challenges while also assuring the health and productivity of the workforce.
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