3 Employee Engagement Killers You Will See At An Airport

3 Employee Engagement Killers You Will See At An Airport 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

I originally thought about entitling this blog, “How to avoid behaving like an airport.”  When I think about airport customer experience and employee engagement I remember how much I dislike traveling now.  The thought of it gives me a stomach ache and heartache.

Whenever I travel my wife always asks, “How was the trip?”  At best my answer is usually, “OK.  Nothing really happened.”  Occasionally I am lucky and the center seat is open.  Then I might exclaim, “Great, I had no one next to me and it was a pleasure.”  But, about 20% of the time I end up sitting in the center seat which more than offsets any excitement about the center seat being open.  Notice I am not mentioning the screaming baby.

I digress.  These issues are mostly the “luck (or un-luck) of the draw” and so it is difficult to hold airport leadership accountable for these random annoying events.  The next time you are traveling look for these issues.  It’s an opportunity to remind yourself to avoid certain behaviors that can damage employee engagement and customer experience every time.

Furthermore, these are behaviors (and habits) and behaviors can change.  Leaders who have these behaviors can change them immediately if they are convinced employee engagement needs to be managed and if they are convinced they damage employee engagement.  Habits are difficult to change but Viktor Frankl once said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”   If leaders appreciate a big enough “why” to change their behavior, I am saying that they can and they must!

If we truly appreciate the importance of employee engagement and how it impacts customer experience, we can change our habits.  Let’s not be like an airport.  Let’s not be:

  • Uncommunicative on essential information
  • Weak on personal accountability
  • Indifferent to feelings

Uncommunicative on essential information

Imagine you are at an airport.  Have you ever experienced an unexpected delay on a flight?  Imagine you are sitting at the gate and the expected boarding time passes and you neither see nor hear any communication about the change.  You walk to the customer service desk and you ask for an update.  You are then told there is a delay.  The communication was not proactive.  It was reactive.  The airline was either unaware or purposefully delayed communicating the status of the flight departure.

Imagine being in that situation.  How are you feeling?  Is there more trust or less?  Is there more credibility or less?  Is there more stress or less?  Leaders need to anticipate the feelings and reactions of employees if important information changes.  Poor communication at a time like this is either misleading and/or incompetent.  It damages trust and damaged trust will damage engagement.

On a recent trip the gate agent made an announcement. I couldn’t understand her in part because of the quality of the PA system and in part because she made the announcement at the same time another adjacent gate agent was making an announcement.   Although I could not understand her words, her body language told me it was serious and not good news.

I asked the people around me what she said.  They didn’t know either.  I walked up to her and told her she could not be heard and asked her to repeat it. She told me it was a delay due to maintenance.  She did not repeat her announcement.  My guess is she was worried about the negative reaction.

Effective leaders can anticipate reactions to changed information by putting themselves in the “shoes” of the employees.  Any change that could have been communicated and is not done in a proactive method will create a reaction that feels disrespectful.    Any reaction that feels disrespectful will damage trust which will damage engagement.

Weak on personal accountability

Who do you call at an airport when you are upset about an issue?  You can talk to (or yell) at a customer service agent.  Does it help?  They rarely have the authority to act for correction.  When your flight requires a change perhaps an argument with the customer service person will work.  For that issue they are empowered.  They can and will also act on your behalf when the airline is at fault. Other than that, you might be very frustrated at the answer you get to correct when you attempt to correct an issue. For example, to whom do you complain when the TSA line is too long and you are about to miss your flight?  Will TSA respond?

An organization with high employee engagement has clarified roles and responsibilities and has empowered the employees to act.   This allows freedom to act. Freedom to act on behalf of the customer will create an impression that the employees are trusted to do the right thing for both customers and for the company.  This improves engagement.  Any time you can demonstrate trust you have improved engagement.

Leaders can take time to help employees to know their roles and responsibilities.  They can take time to ask questions about issues employees encounter which require quick decisions and good judgement.  Leaders can take time to give employees the tools to act on behalf of the company to do their jobs properly and to serve customers with grace and respect.  It is rare to see this at an airport.

Indifferent to feelings

Do people get upset at airports?  YES!  Pretty much every day.  What can we do when people get upset?  We can provide empathy.  We don’t always have the answers to the issues and we don’t always know the root causes of problems.  What we always have is the ability to express empathy.

Empathy is the sincere expression that we understand the importance of an issue and we appreciate how the person must feel about the situation.  We can always do this. Leaders always can do this. Why not do it?

In my experience, there is a shortage of empathy in the workplace.  Empathy helps people to move past the negative emotions and move toward positive action. Leaders are in the best position to both demonstrate empathy and to show others how important the expression of empathy is for mental health and problem solving.

There are three simple behaviors leaders can do to avoid damaging employee engagement.  Why not anticipate communication on important issues?  Why not demonstrate accountability and why not help others to demonstrate it as well?  Why not demonstrate empathy when there is emotion?  Simple actions that are doable can make a big difference to both employees and customers.  Why not?  Why not avoid behaving like the typical airport?