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Airport Employees: Indispensible to Success

Sep 12, 2012

by Francis G. Spranza

President, Spranza Inc

Whether pilot, operations officer, customer service representative, security officer or fire/rescue, working at an airport can be an exciting and quite rewarding experience. As with any job however, there are a variety of human factors which determine your quality of work on any given day, and at any given time. Many are positive - in that they enhance your on-the-job performance, others can be negative - these decrease your productivity and effectiveness this in turn can contribute to either confrontations with travelers, safety mishaps, security breaches or a combination of negative situations.

Employee Apathy

Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to administrators is that of employee apathy. The feeling that one simply does not care if the rules are followed, does not care if proper procedures are met, and is unwilling to make the effort necessary to be a team player. Airlines are airports take great care in designing a fixed set of rules governing both employee actions and their interactions with the traveling public. Understanding the importance of good customer service and "positive" organizational branding have become two key factors in enhancing any operation's bottom line.

Perhaps the best method to combat this situation is for administration to foster among employees greater understanding of the concept behind and requirement for adhering to promulgated "standards". This can be done through briefings, newsletters, videotape, and in-house memos. Another tool often used to combat employee apathy involves employee participation. Take as example the Security Awareness Program. As an airport employee you play a large part in assuring the safety and security of the traveling public. Your role is critical in ensuring compliance both on your part and that of fellow employees, airport tenants, airline crews and even your customers (the traveling public). By the very virtue of your employ, you are the eyes, ears and representatives of both the Security department and Airport Administration, regardless of your particular job description.

At some point in time most of us find ourselves becoming apathetic about policy and procedures. Tedious and redundant tasks, stresses at home and interpersonal relationships, financial burdens and sometimes simple wanderlust combine to fuel job apathy. One simple solution: become more involved. Actively try and find ways to improve the way things are being done. Suggest scenarios for weak spots in safety and security practices. Volunteer to become a representative of your organization on the Airport Security Committee, the Airport Facilitation Committee, or other action team. Remember, the key to avoiding apathy is involvement and caring as part of the airport team.

Lack of Understanding

In many instances a simple lack of understanding may be responsible for an employee failing to conform to existing policies and procedures – whether operational, security or company related. Language, education level, improper training and a lack of mandatory re-training are often at fault. Administrators and managers who see the necessity for and take the time to produce such tools as multi media presentations, weekly e-briefings, and occasional reminders can serve to provide every employee with critical policy information.

Supervisors have the responsibility to take an active role in ensuring each of their subordinates understands airport policy and complies with proper customer service, security and operations procedures while on duty. Today there are a host of multi-lingual employee training aids and programs designed to foster a sense of awareness and rule compliance within the workforce.

Disregard for the Rules

In any organization, whether airline, airport, or CAA, there are those who simply do not wish to conform to the rules. Those individuals, who would take shortcuts, ignore safety and security policies, belittle customers and simply prefer to take what they perceive as the "easy way" to get through the day. Though they may not last long on the job, these types of individuals can often harm both the reputation of an airport and airline as well as pose a serious safety and security risk to travelers, fellow airport employees and air crew alike. We all know or have met individuals such as these. Many of us may have either worked with them, or in some cases even have been subjected to them as supervisors.

Though a whole host of psychological issues result in employees blatantly disregarding the promulgated agency policies and procedures, ranging from arrogance to severe personality disorders, simply stated: "When you agreed to take this job, you also agreed to follow certain rules as a condition of your employ". Disregard for any written policy, whether corporate, airport or emergency related can, and often does, lead simply to termination of that individual's employment.

Employee Non-Compliance

One of the major issues facing airport administrators is whether to punish those who fail to comply with policy or to reward those who do. There is a substantial argument for both cases. On the one hand, to punish offenders or impose sanctions allows managers and airport administrators to force employees into specific behaviors under threat of financial or other punishment. In these cases, the compliance rates for employee's ranges from mediocre to good at best. Most people resent being intimidated into a behavior pattern. Far more desirable, is for the employee to understand the reasons why a policy exists and freely undertake to follow those rules, knowing it leads to a safer and more secure work environment.

As for rewarding individuals who, for example, properly display ID badges in the AOA (Airside Operations Area) or follow other airport policies, studies show that this appears only to be effective when there is a high degree of non-compliance. However, a problem may be created where employees begin to only follow policy when the reward is of value to them. Financial rewards must constantly be increased; perks or other benefits must be steadily of more value in order to ensure continued compliance.

Another issue that arises: "Should we reward behavior which we expect of each employee in the course of their job?" Much like the parent who need not reward the child each time he or she prepares the dinner table, or completes a homework assignment, this is merely expected behavior and not extraordinary activity. As in dealing with one's children, to this there is no easy answer, and each airport, airline and CAA must approach the problem within the context of its own corporate culture, attitudes and limitations.

Failure to Follow Up

Regardless of the amount of effort which goes into the development and implementation of operational policy and procedures, if managers fail to properly follow up employee input – problems are certain to arise. Just as it is the duty of each employee to comply, observe and notify; it is the job of supervisors and administrators to follow up reports and resolve problems within the confines of their abilities and position. Apathy arises when an employee reports a situation or security / safety violation and then sees nothing is done to correct it. Soon, the employee – regardless of position or status within the organization, begins to feel "Well, if they are getting away with it, so can I", and the problems grows exponentially. In another common lament, one asks, "Why tell security, they will do nothing about it anyway". If the security department fails to act as an integral part of the airport team, the entire Employee Security Awareness Program is placed in jeopardy. These same principles hold for safety violations on the AOA, as well as rules of OPSEC (Operations Security) and COMSEC (Communications Security) throughout the airport.

Each key agency within the airport operating environment plays an indispensable role in the protection of airport property and resources. To that end, they must maintain open communication, cooperation and coordination with ALL agencies, personnel and operators servicing the aerodrome facility.

Conclusion

As a service industry, the airport is a unique environment. Travelers, air crew, employees and tenants all contribute to the success, failure, profit or loss of the operation on a daily basis. Each individual, from CSR to Security Officer, Firefighter to air crew as well as managers and administrators have an important role to play. Only when policies and procedures developed by competent professionals provide for a seamless interaction among all employees and agencies, while offering an open channel for feedback, airport safety and security is assured.

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