Managing 'our most important asset' : the rhetoric and reality of HRM in the airline industry
On the surface, airlines appear to embrace a 'soft', people-centred approach to HRM, demonstrated by the deployment of a range of HR strategies aimed at the 'soft' ideals of cooperation, commitment and trust. However, within the context of tight profit margins and competitive markets, a range of 'hard', cost-centred HR strategies, may dominate. In other words, the deregulated, competitive environment of the airline industry may find airline companies shifting from a 'soft', people-centred approach to a 'hard', cost-centred approach, where cost considerations take priority over all other concerns, including those relating to employee health and safety. In an industry that claims 'people are our most important asset', one might expect 'good practice' in terms of occupational health and safety (OHS). However, the present research finds that cabin crew OHS is being overshadowed by airline companies' profit imperatives. Based on a cabin crew perspective, the research examines developments in OHS, in terms of the range and extent of OHS risks that are experienced by cabin crews. These developments in turn, provide an insight into the case study airlines' approach to people management. The research identifies a high prevalence of a range of illnesses and OHS risks, which can be linked to airline companies' people management policies. Overall, the thesis challenges the rhetoric of airlines' 'people-centred' approach, as well as current notions of the range and extent of OHS risks relating to the cabin crew labour process. In addition, the thesis offers an innovative review and analysis of HRM taken from an OHS perspective.