Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers and Managers
This is a story as much about cutting costs, avoiding failure, and raising stock value as it is about how to treat employees, their role in business decisions, and the changing employment relationship. Over ten years, Boeing employees were surveyed and interviewed, monitoring the effect of major business decisions (new ‘teams’ culture, technology, increasing roles for women, etc…). The shift by top executives to a more single-minded and short-term focus on the financial bottom line created a sense among many blue and white-collar workers alike that they are expendable resources to be used and discarded according to the ...view middle of the document...
In 1999, Boeing took 22 days to assemble 737 NG; by 2005 they only needed 11 days with only two shifts and 60% less inventory. However, the new team culture, rather than building cohesion and cooperative enterprise, was perceived as cold, calculating, and uncaring. Little to no blue/white-collar worker input or consideration was used in these decisions. Implementing every new fad in the business community should be avoided. The pace of change should be considered. New manager teams for planning and implementing new changes in business and operations should be created. The managers are the main voice in translating executive decisions to everyday workers.
In the ten years of this study, Boeing’s workforce reached a high of 109, 523 in 1998 and a low of 48,067 in 2004 with many up and downs in between. The aviation industry was known for being volatile, but this was more excessive than the past. There were many sound reasons for the mass hiring and layoffs that Boeing experienced. Many of the changing environmental factors discussed above contributed to the need for layoffs and successive re-hiring. However, the method and pace of the layoffs have shown to be detrimental to the well being of all workers, to those laid off and those that remain. Layoffs turned the company’s financial crisis into a human and social one. Employee attitudes and health proved to be negatively affected. Good employees looked for a way out. Others remained but things were different. Detached, passive, and disengaged workers may not only be detrimental for the company; such toxic mental states are likely to damage employee well being over the long run. Leaving Boeing during this time even proved to be good for employee health. “The misery of uncertainty is more painful than the certainty of misery.” Companies need to do a better job at sharing the pains and gains with employees (e.g. cutting back executive bonuses and salaries with employees) and treat them with dignity and respect. A major mistake of Boeing was cutting back on the human resource functions that would have greatly aided the remaining employees in surviving such chaotic changes. Above all, companies must acknowledge the human cost of decisions. Employers can use strategies to enhance revenues and cut costs that engage employees as full partners and co-beneficiaries.
Changing Employee Loyalty