Thursday, 6 September 2012

Managers versus Workers ...

Our recent trip to the UK was a bit challenging thanks to a strike by the Flight Attendants on our chosen airline. The strike began at 05.00 in the morning and ended at 13.00, but the impact across the entire operation of the Frankfurt Airport was massive. We'd checked in online, so could go straight to the Baggage Drop and 'do-it-ourselves' at the electronic baggage check - except that the queue to do so was a little over 50 metres in length. And that wasn't the longest queue by any manner of means. Our return flight, by comparison, was a dream. No waiting, no strike and we arrived on schedule to a normally functioning airport.

So why the strike? It comes down to the fact that Lufthansa's management is looking to cut costs. Their proposal is to use 'agency' staff as Flight Attendants as this means they save on the 'employer's costs' by not hiring directly. In effect, the Agency carries the cost of things like Health Insurance contributions, pensions, annual and sick leave and so on. Understandably, the current employees are not keen on this idea at all, and I have to say I'm in full agreement with them on it. The Union has fought tooth and nail against it, and now the management have come up with a lulu of a solution.

The offer on the table can be summarised as; 'We won't use the Agency Staffing idea if your members agree to work longer hours at the same pay.' It sounds reasonable, except that it is, in effect, saying the staff can have their current terms and conditions - but take a 20 - 30% cut in pay.

Lufthansa has, until recently, been managed by a CEO who came up through the ranks and understood the airline business. The current CEO, has an engineering degree and has worked on the original team that turned Lufthansa into the success it is today. He then moved to Deutsche Bahn (the German National Rail company) before returning briefly to Lufthansa and then to Swiss Air as CEO. His articles suggest he is driven by the maxim that profits must be maximised by cutting costs - in this case, wages. But, as is usual with senior managers proclaiming staff must 'work harder for the same pay' he is not proposing a similar cut in 'costs' at Board level.

As a friend who works for Lufthansa remarked recently, 'The CEO and Board, unlike the Cabin Attendants, can work anywhere. We wish they would.'

Having worked until very recently under this kind of management, I have to say I agree. In recent years I have not met a single 'senior manager' of this 'school' who fully understood what the 'coal face' staff actually did, or how demanding it was. Nor have I ever encountered one who was prepared to make the sacrifices they routinely demand of their 'staff.'

Perhaps it is time to demand that they work the same hours they demand of their staff, take the same pain in the pocket and face the same working conditions. Oh, I forgot, they're 'strategists' its down to 'Middle Management' to work out the 'tactical' and 'task' issues ...


  1. Oh Dear – Didymus just has to put his two pennyworth in here.
    Senior management has to respect and understand the middle and junior managers issues aspirations and challenges before it can even start to be a successful strategic driving force.
    Unfortunately in the public and civil service this is rarely the case. Senior managers are often parachuted in from other departments or other industries where they have had some success in more junior positions but ‘show potential’.
    The obvious problem is that these people – with all good intentions – are often briefed to make some considerable changes in a short space of time – forget about the past – move forward. Unfortunately this tags certain existing managers as Luddites or terrorists when they try and explain that this has been tried before or that certain practices under scrutiny are really important to the task being undertaken.
    The now senior manager therefore ignores the advice and steamrollers on satisfying in the short term the people who appointed them. The sidelined existing managers grow more and more dissatisfied.
    At a certain point not too far into the farce the top person realises that they may have been handed a poison chalice and starts one of a series of exit strategies – of course designed to leave the least smear on their own reputation.
    Meanwhile the lower echelons continue to try and make a good fist of the job in hand with reduced resources greater expectations and decimated infrastructure.
    On and on ever weakened until oblivion – such a shame.
    All that is needed is a senior management that is willing to observe. Listen, share and divulge new objectives and do not take on impossible positions for the sole reason of self . As a fully signed up middle manager with limited leadership skills but massive loyalty and support credentials I always admired those who could really lead with passion, ability and humility.

  2. As you know, Didymus, we have worked for a lot of these 'managers' along the way, but now it seems to have become an epidemic, particularly in civil service type structures and the large corporate organisations.

    Sad, because it will destroy them all eventually, and take us down with them.