Last couple of days there were some talks about big changes in HR department in Emirates Airline. Some of them say that couple of senior vice presidents’ contracts were terminated. While it is certain that these changes happened, we deal only with facts and evidence on this blog, so I will not publish any names as I have no firm evidence about fired managers’ names. .
But this information did make me think about something that is very present throughout the whole company: very developed culture of punishments.
What is an organizational culture?
I will give you one simple definition from Wikipedia:
Organizational culture is the behaviour of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviours. Culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviours and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling. Organizational culture affects the way people and groups interact with each other, with clients, and with stakeholders.
I am not sure if Emirates Airline had ever established organizational culture in terms of policies and civilized behaviour between employees. If they ever had it, it means that it was ruined for the last ten or so years, because a corporate culture which is devastated to the point that it is non-existent had to suffer from a lot of violations of policies and laws.
How does a corporate culture in Emirates Airline look like?
1. There is all present sense of desperation and disappointment between overworked and underpaid employees, who are told, at a regular basis, that they “can resign if they are not satisfied, because thousands of people are waiting in line to take their place“. Even if you’re not an expert in the human resource field, you can predict devastating effects of this kind of disposable staff policy in the future (that future is now, unfortunately for EK).
2. EK is employing highly educated people from all over the world. Those people are used on mutual respect and ethical behaviour at work. Yes, every company has ethical and employees’ relationships issues, but when these issues become a prevalent problem which heavily affects customer service, profit and company’s reputation in public, company is already in deep crisis.
3. Warnings are given without discussion and almost at a spot. And if you are given a chance to explain yourself, it is only a formality. Managers consider punishments as desirable acts, because they are the “evidence” that they are “keeping things under control”. This is an out-dated way of thinking. Contemporary people know about their rights, especially educated ones.
4. Very high staff turnover is a huge problem in EK. I can’t imagine how did experienced and educated HR management ever think that it is profitable not to retain staff but to always recruit and train new staff in huge numbers. It’s an irrational waste of money! Is it better to waste money on hiring new staff (which is not as skilled and good as already experienced staff) or to just use that money to make your employees happy?
Seems that starry success of EK made those managers think that EK is a powerful entity beyond its people, that people are just replaceable servants of the company. How is it ever possible that a smart human being thinks that any company can exist without (good) people? Or did those managers start to feel so safe behind their office desks during the years spent there that they think they became the company itself?
5. Medical issues in EK are the painful point for many employees. After many years of working with EK and being loyal to the company, many people are fired and managers avoid to pay them their insurances for medical treatment. EK doesn’t provide any retirement plan, so when people get sick from hard working and badly planned tiring shifts, they go home sick and without money for hospitals and doctors. It’s a real tragedy for many loyal EK employees.
6. Constant fear from punishments (even managers have warnings in EK) causes managers to shift responsibility from their hands to lowest grades which, then, makes huge pressure on the lowest grade staff.
When I had a problem with an aggressive passenger (very common problem in EK) my supervisor, duty officer, airport services manager (ASM) and manager airport services (MAS) couldn’t deal with the problem on any other way than to interrogate me in front of the passenger (!), with all of them present in the room! I was the only one who got punished (passenger got an upgrade, so if you want to be upgraded in EK, just make a huge fuss during check in) and when I asked my manager why, he told me that he has a final warning as well! No wonder he didn’t want to take responsibility for this issue!
At one of the internal group discussions at grade 5 interview (which is almost the same as grade 4; grade 4 staff often does the work of grade 5 without being paid for it) Mr. Josuha Waltz, controller at the airport, asked what should be a “punishment” for those employees who don’t come back to work from their discounted staff tickets travels on time. I politely reminded him that not everything has to be “in terms of punishment” and that we can talk about consequences (taking a responsibility) as well. I don’t blame Mr. Joshua, this is a widespread culture in EK, he has just adopted it. But this is why EK managers need additional education.
7. Due to fear of being fired if they express their opinion, people live in silent desperation, being rude and indifferent towards passengers and backstabbing each other. There is an unwritten rule in EK: if you report your colleague, you are automatically right and managers believe whatever you say and you will even be promoted; your colleague, on the other hand, will be interrogated in a strict police interrogation way, and he or she will be punished because they’re automatically guilty if somebody (a colleague or a passenger) complains on them.
8. Autocratic way of seniors’ behaviour. There is a widespread culture of mutual disrespect and seniors have a “chain of command” military mentality. You are forbidden to question your senior in any way and if someone dares to ask a question or refuses to do what senior says (even if it is unethical or it violates labour rights) they will be punished and harassed.
There were several occasions when I have refused to do two tasks at the same time (denied boarding – very stressful task, and a regular check in). My managers called me for the unpleasant meeting first time and punished me by sending me to work in the busiest check in area second time. They never asked me if I am capable and fresh enough to deal with a stress of denied boarding counters and a check in of loads of regular passengers at the same time.
9. There is a lot more to describe in these patterns of behaviours inside EK, but these are the highlights.
I have no intention to criticize laws of UAE. I have already explained that I have a huge respect for its people, I find them good-hearted and generous. But, as I have written before Emirates Airline is NOT a subject of a Federal Labour Law in Dubai. This alone is a ground for all sorts of unethical and ruthless behaviour of those on a higher managerial positions, because there is almost absolutely no one or nothing to regulate their behaviour or to stop them from violating ethical, moral, human and labour rights.
This is a terrible ground for doing a modern business.
Second reason of a corporate culture devastation is the fact that UAE and Dubai are ruled uncompromisingly by a royal family and a man who can’t be judged or questioned. With all due respect to every each member of a royal family I dare to say that it is very wrong to silence every benevolent criticism inside the company. Strong people and strong companies are not afraid of criticism. They use them to perceive their own weak spots and to be bigger and better. But if you treat every opposite voice as “disobedient” and you silence it with punishment, after couple of years you will get a network of poltroons and scared managers without bravery and boldness to lead your company forward, towards your goal of being the best. As the matter of fact, this network of like-minded managers will likely be a death sentence for your company.
I really hope that those changes in HR department from the beginning of this article represent an intention of the presidency to make real changes instead of a simple punishment for managers who didn’t do their job well.