- 1. Workplace context
Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by an employer, another person or group of people at work. It can happen in any type of workplace and to anyone
(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2011). Bullying would lead to behaviors that intimidate, degrades, offends, humiliates, another often in the presence of others.
Employees facing irate customers often have not been trained to properly handle these situations. Thus, policies and training are necessary for employees working in the service sectors to be equipped with the right skills to deal with such customers with minimum stress. This issue must be addressed tactfully or else it may lead to consequences such as high staff turnover and serious psychological problems in the long term
Singapore Airlines has been chosen as the workplace to feature with the intention to bring awareness of the interpersonal communication issues that happens commonly during a typical air flight to most people or frequent flyers. With the available primary and secondary sources on ex-flight attendants’ experiences, most credible information would be garnered.
- 2. Project’s thematic focus
For this project and research purpose, the team has taken on a case study of Singapore’s national carrier – Singapore Airlines.
There are many divisions in Singapore Airlines. The project will focus on the cabin crew division, particularly the cabin crew and the workplace in aircraft. To most people, a flight attendant job presents a glamourous and luxurious image
(Mitsueki, 2013). However in reality, the life of a flight attendant is considered to be harsh as it is simply not “coffee or tea” service (Price, 2015).
As there are several negative aspects of being a flight attendant, this project will focus on inflight interpersonal communication issues between the flight attendant and passengers. Workplace harassment from passengers is one of the main issue as highlighted by Hilary, a former Singapore Airlines flight attendant
(Hilary, 2016). There are many different types of passengers of different characteristics and personalities which have different expectations and demands (Airliners Net, 2003).
As demands of flight passengers have increased over the years, there is a higher possibility that they would create more difficult situations for flight attendants
(IATA, 2016). Thus, there is a need to educate and suggest the standard procedures in handling these passengers effectively in such situations and to protect the interest of flight attendants.
- 3. Interpersonal communication problem being explored
The interpersonal communication problem identified lies between flight attendants and passengers. During an interview with a former flight attendant, she shared four real life incidents which she experienced during her flying career. Based on her recount, four common communication issues are being analyzed and discussed.
3.1 Verbally Abusive Communications
When a customer is agitated by anger, some would tend to express their dissatisfaction and may turn verbally abusive towards the flight attendant. In serious cases, they may scold the flight attendants using abusive language which will affect their morals. Such situation is off the limits and need to be dealt accordingly.
3.2 Unaware of the Extent of Interaction
Some uncivilized passengers may unknowingly create discomfort towards flight attendants due to a difference in each other’s cultural backgrounds. These passengers must be let known of the extent of their ‘friendliness’ otherwise, flight attendants may deem the actions as a form of harassment.
3.3 Uncontrollable Situations
It is common for passengers to consume alcohol on the plane. However, undesirable outcomes may happen if their alcohol intake is not controlled. Passengers who have as a result become drunk or tipsy may cause a disruption or be physically abusive on the plane during the process of handling them.
3.4 Demanding Requests
Extremely fussy passengers who nitpicks on flight attendants will raise unreasonable requests such as giving pointless or impossible tasks to the flight attendants that may have no relation to their job scopes. These passengers are abusing their passenger authority to intimidate flight attendants to make them feel less important and undervalued.
- 4. The nature of your project’s professional importance
In the case study, the scenarios such as verbally, physically, uncivilised, drunk, difficult and fussy customers was studied. Thus, regardless of the nature of the situation, it is important that the cabin crew approach with tact. Workplace abuse and bullying situations by customers are usually problematic instances where the service personnel have to handle difficult customers. According to a research by Monash University, service personnel who possess effective problem solving and communication skills are more employable
(Monash University, 2012).
The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode instrument consists of the five styles: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. These styles can be adopted to assist cabin crew members in customizing their approaches towards passengers who require more than regular assistance.
With reference to the Thomas-Kilman conflict mode, Tam (2015) suggests that one must first understand that conflict has occurred, understand the style that may best suit the parties in conflict as well as the desired outcome. Most importantly there should be a conflict management plan. Amalgamating the established scenarios within Singapore Airlines, commercial value of problem-solving staff, the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode as well as Understanding Conflict and Conflict Management, the following steps have been proposed:
- Stop, stay-calm and do not react, quickly analyse the situation
- Remember the purpose of conflict management: to achieve passenger satisfaction to the best of one’s ability
- Should one be unable to, remove oneself politely and attempt to get assistance in achieving the purpose of conflict resolution
Singapore Airlines is known for being a benchmark in the service industry, especially within the aviation sector. The cabin crew are known to exude service from the heart, a standard that is a representation of Singapore.
- 5. The objective and scope of your study
The study seeks to identify and understand the existing issues pertaining to bullying and abuse between passengers and the cabin crew, specifically towards the commercial operating environment of Singapore Airlines.
The scope of the study has been designed within the parameters of workplace bullying and abuse of cabin crew by international passengers during inflight exchanges. Through the study, the team seeks to identify a range of common to unknown interactions. With the identified interpersonal communications, the team aims to understand better of the exchanges between both parties as well as exploring options/methods on how to deal with the interpersonal communication problem presented.
- 6. Data collection/research method
To better understand the situation at Singapore Airlines, a combination of primary and secondary sources was consulted, including online research through news articles and videos. In-depth interviews were conducted with previous Singapore Airlines Cabin Crew members. Stuff.co.nz provided great visual and descriptive insights on the unknown skills and talents of the cabin crew. Singapore Airlines also released footage of the cabin crew’s training through role-playing assignments. Furthermore, a fellow team member’s recount on her work experience provides further insights on the training needs.
- 7. Potential solutions/implementation for problem resolution
Understanding the underlying issue of workplace bullying, the team believes, that in any situation the employee is caught in, he/she should remain calm when responding to passenger. To further resolve the issue on hand, the employee should follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) implemented by the company. By following company’s SOP, the employee will not be faulted by the management.
The management acknowledges of such situations that are occurring onboard the aircraft. As such, voyage report is implemented. Typically written by a ranking crew, a voyage report is written, completed and submitted to the management after a flight into Singapore (home base). Additionally, customer complaints department would receive a copy of the voyage report. The voyage report serves as a platform for cabin crew to explain in details and account for any one particular incident on the flight. It acts as a defense tool used by cabin crew to explain their actions taken. It should also explain and help both management and customer complaints department understand that the incident happened because of the difficult passenger who caused unpleasantness.
While a voyage report may reduce the chances of a flight attendant being called by to office, taking immediate appropriate action onboard may be a more effective solution. Completing a service recovery may improve passenger’s satisfaction and decrease the possibility of the passenger writing in a complaint.
Mentioned earlier in the report, the four situations that were discussed include:
7.1 Verbally Abusive Communications
Flight attendant caught in this situation should not get affected and worked up when being verbally abused. Instead, the crew should be firm and warn the passenger that he/she will not take in such negative and unruly feedback. The crew should also report this situation to his/her complex leader so that a voyage report would be written to protect the crew. As a complex leader, the senior crew should complete a service recovery by calming the passenger down and offering a listening ear.
7.2 Unaware of the Extent of Interaction
In this situation, the flight attendant should express his/her discomfort firmly and politely. The crew should also teach the passenger of the appropriate manner to get attention – pressing the call button.
7.3 Uncontrollable Situations
There are several actions that can be taken by the crew. The crew should have monitor the alcohol consumption of each passenger. If a passenger is noted to be tipsy, the crew should slow down the response time of serving another glass of alcohol. If cocktail was ordered, the drink can be diluted by increasing the ratio of non-alcoholic content.
There may be incidents where passengers will become very unruly. This situation cannot be controlled merely by staggering consumption rate or diluting the drinks. In the worst possible scenario, the crew will inform the flight in-charge who will communicate to the flight commander (captain) about the situation that is going on in the cabin.
The commander may issue a warning before issuing a restrain order on the passenger. If the restrain order is issued, the unruly passenger will be restrained to his/her seat for the rest of the flight.
7.4 Demanding Requests
Flight attendant facing extremely difficult passengers may seek help from senior crew who are more experienced. They may try to fulfil the demanding requests to their best ability or offer alternatives when there is a lack of resources to present what is demanded. A voyage report will be submitted for such incidents to protect the crew from an unreasonable after-flight complaint. This passenger’s preferences will be recorded in the system and issued out as memo to future crew who will be serving on that passenger’s flight.
- 8. Benefits to the workplace
When employees can practice more patience and tolerance towards the passengers, service quality in the cabin would improve. According to Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, accommodating mode is important in this line of service as employee can use it to create good will or keep peace which will usually result in increasing passengers’ satisfaction with the company.
Practicing company’s SOP will ensure that crew presents a similar, if not exact, service standard across all flights by Singapore Airlines. By doing so, it will help manage passengers’ expectations of the company. When passengers’ satisfaction improves, workplace satisfaction for employees will improve too.
- 9. Conclusion
Workplace bullying (by passengers) in this industry is not a new issue. This has dire consequences as it affects an employee’s efficiency and satisfaction while working. These often lead to higher turnover rate. Even though the company continuously recruit new employees to replace the ones who left, training costs is considerably more than that of retaining current employees.
Through the study of workplace bullying that occurs in terms of inflight interpersonal communication, this project also presents another side of a flight attendant’s life. The list of situations presented in the study is not exhausted and there is more of what cabin crew face daily in the aircraft. Being able to deal with interpersonal communications issues will improve not only improve passengers’ satisfaction, but also workplace satisfaction.
Airliners Net. (2003). Retrieved from http://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=215003
Australian Human Rights Commission. (2011). Workplace bullying: Violence, Harassment and Bullying Fact sheet. Retrieved from Australian Human Rights Commission: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/workplace-bullying-violence-harassment-and-bullying-fact-sheet
Careerone. (2017). Customer abuse leaves employers open to litigation. Retrieved from Careerone: http://advertisers.careerone.com.au/hr/hr-best-practices/workforce-management/employee-retention-strategies/customer-abuse-leaves-employers-open-to-litigation.aspx
Hilary. (2016). 1 year after SQ. Retrieved from Dayre: https://dayre.me/tieponytail/skRWRVxyYm
IATA. (2016, Feburary 4). Demand for Air Travel in 2015 Surges to Strongest Result in Five Years. Retrieved from International Air Transport Association: http://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2016-02-04-01.aspx
Mitsueki. (2013). Mitsueki - Singapore Lifestyle Blogger. Retrieved from Life of a Air Stewardess & Air Steward // The Harsh Reality: http://mitsueki.sg/
Monash University. (2012). Developing and Describing Employability Skills. Employability Skills: Hospitality.
Price, R. (2015). A former Singapore Airlines flight attendant tells all in a revealing blog post. Retrieved from Travel Stuff: http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/news/68407934/A-former-Singapore-Airlines-flight-att
Tam, E. (2015, January 2015). Understanding conflict and conflict management . Retrieved from Issuu: https://issuu.com/edvardt/docs/understanding_conflict_and_conflict