Employee Engagement in Business Aviation

Author By Steve Brechter
employee engagement is business aviation

There’s an old joke in which a business leader is asked how many people in his organization work and he responds, “About half of them.”

The actual statistics on employee engagement are even worse than that.

According to research, only 29 percent of employees in the U.S. today are motivated and energized.

What, then, is happening to the other two-thirds of the national workforce?

What is causing people to lose their enthusiasm for work?

Almost everyone joins an organization with energy and commitment.

In business aviation, we enjoy an unfair advantage, in that we are far more passionate about what we do than those in many other professions.

What is it, then, that can extinguish the flame after only a few years in the workplace?

Here are 10 very likely causes:

  1. Little or no feedback or guidance from those in charge
  2. Lack of opportunity to discuss problems or provide input
  3. Lack of resources to solve problems or to do a job well
  4. Little or no reward or recognition
  5. Limited opportunity to develop one’s potential
  6. Pressure to perform and achieve more with less
  7. Lack of opportunities to interact face-to-face
  8. Interpersonal conflicts left unresolved
  9. Little joy or humor, except for office gossip and cynicism
  10. Stress in balancing work and home responsibilities, leading to energy depletion, higher divorce rates and the feeling of being overwhelmed

Measuring Employee Engagement

Since 1997, the Gallup Organization has surveyed approximately three million employees in 300,000 workgroups within corporations across all industries.

This survey consists of 12 actionable workplace questioning elements—called the ‘Q12’—that measure employee engagement.

Results show that organizations with high Q12scores experience lower turnover, better productivity, better customer loyalty and other manifestations of superior performance.

The Gallup Management Journal’s semi-annual Employee Engagement Index puts the current percentage of truly engaged U.S. employees at 29 percent.

A majority of workers, 54percent, in fact, fall into the not engaged category, while 17 percent are actively disengaged.

Here is how the Gallup Organization defines these three types of employees:

Engaged Employees (29%) –They work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.

Not Engaged Employees (54%)—Members of this group are essentially ‘checked out.’ They’re almost sleepwalking through their workday and merely putting in time. They exhibit varying levels of compliance, but not commitment.

Actively Disengaged Employees (17%)—Workers in this group aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, they slowly undermine the positive attitudes of their engaged co-workers. They significantly increase the ‘drag’ on organizational progress.

The above statistics measure the commitment levels of employees to their company, not attitudes about their jobs. That partly explains why an industry such as business aviation is populated by workers who are highly passionate about the work they do, but who might score low on an engagement survey.

While leaders of corporations rightfully focus intense efforts on building shareholder value, they should be equally focused on the two-thirds of their workforce who are just going through the motions, putting in time without commitment. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees—the least productive—cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity.

How to Handle ‘Not Engaged’ Employees

Efforts to raise levels of engagement are worthwhile for those who fall into in the not-engaged range.

Employees in this category concentrate on tasks and want to be told what to do.

They are compliant, but not committed.

Leaders who only provide tasks to employees reinforce ‘not-engaged’ behaviors. They miss the opportunity to engage the heart, mind and soul of these workers.

The way to influence people to truly become a part of an organization is through relationships.

Employees who feel disconnected from their co-workers and supervisors do not feel committed to their work. They hang back and do the minimum because they don’t believe anyone cares. In a flight department, this can be especially significant pronounced because many employees, such as pilots, work non-traditional schedules.

Opportunities for personal connection are limited.

Leaders need to demonstrate a sense of really caring about employees and what it is that’s important to them.

The leader who takes the time to have a dialogue with an employee about his or her strengths and how they can make a difference forges essential ties and connections that lead to employee commitment.

In the case of the pilots noted above, a chief pilot needs to go out of his or her way to ensure that frequent and meaningful opportunities for personal dialogue do, in fact, exist.

The Aviation Leader’s Role

Leaders must provide expectations, clarification and measurement.

A good place to start is with a conversation about expectations of the employee.

Help the individual to view his or her role from a broader perspective instead of from a narrow, task-oriented point of view.

Encourage the employee to see how his or her work contributes to the organizational future by engaging the employee in a conversation about how he or she impacts the parent company.

For example, you might ask an aircraft maintenance technician:

“What are your essential responsibilities?”

“What are the outcomes you are supposed to achieve?”

“How do you contribute to making this a great place to work?”

“How are you creating satisfied customers for the organization?”

Leaders can help employees clarify how they can achieve outcomes.

An employee can be coached to “build range” and better fill his or her job responsibilities.

For instance, a flight department scheduler who is not particularly adept at creating monthly status reports can collaborate with someone who is, such as the accounts payable person.

Measurement is crucial to an employee’s feeling of success and it needs to focus on outcomes, not steps.

Metrics and measurements should be focused on the goals and objectives in the flight department’s operating plan.

Keeping an Employee Engaged

Creating more “engaged” aviation employees can be likened to creating more shareholder value for the parent company. Why?

Because engagement creates greater levels of satisfaction for senior executive customers. They stay with the organization longer and are more committed to the department’s success.

As an aviation director, you can keep your employees engaged by ensuring that they:

  • Have a strong relationship with their supervisor
  • Receive clear communication from their supervisor
  • Have a clear sense of their contributions through what they do best
  • Are building strong relationships with their co-workers
  • Feel support from their co-workers so they will stretch for excellence (for instance, a maintenance technician volunteering for an early-morning weekend launch)

It’s important to note that you can’t do this yourself. You must make it a part of the expectations that you place upon each member of your leadership team.

Leaders naturally want to invest their time with their most productive and talented people, because they are the ones with the most potential.

Engaged employees, however, tend to get the least amount of focus, attention and investment from leaders. That is in part because their heads are down and they’re working hard.

It’s the disengaged employees who require more attention.

Astute leaders in engaged companies must address the symptoms immediately or the disconnection will only worsen.

How to Improve Employee Engagement in Business Aviation

The path toward engaging employees and then keeping them engaged begins with knowing what they want and what is important to them.

Here is a summary of what workers responding to the Gallup Q12 survey say they want from their leaders:

  • Focus me
  • Know me
  • Care about me
  • Hear me
  • Help me feel proud
  • Help me review my contributions
  • Equip me
  • Help me see my value
  • Help me grow
  • Help me see my importance
  • Help me build mutual trust
  • Challenge me

Stay Tuned

If you’re interested in additional perspectives on workforce engagement, we invite you to check out these practical tools for increasing the levels of engagement and commitment in your flight department. And, feel free to contact us to discuss us conducting a Current State Assessment or The Way Forward program.


Your Turn

How have you kept your flight department team committed and engaged? We’re sure you have made use of some innovative approaches yourself. We invite you to use the link below to share them with us.