Whenever any company consistently implements practices that reduce employee morale, they must realize that the impact will be poor service, poor attendance and less than stellar performance.

I was flying home from Charlotte, N.C., on Christmas Eve after working for one of my favorite clients. I was in a great mood, but as I approached the ticket counter, my pessimistic self began bracing for the typical late or cancelled flight home to Florida. Later, as I waited in the gate area, I felt sympathy for the many parents with small children who were trying to cope with delays and cancellations. Airlines are easy targets for ridicule, anger and animosity, but as I observed the gate agents' responses to irate passengers, I realized that most airlines have lost sight of what is important.

Of course, I didn't know at the time that Comair was in the process of canceling all of its flights and stranding thousands of passengers all over the place. I also didn't know that US Air was in the process of losing 10,000 pieces of luggage due to an apparent sickout by some of its employees. I just figured it was more of the typical poor service by our domestic airlines, made a little worse by the higher volume of holiday travelers.

In any event, I had plenty of time to kill since my flight was late, so I began to observe the interaction between the gate employees and their customers-oops, I mean the poor suckers-who were trying desperately to fly home for the holidays. Announcement upon announcement came over the PA system: "Flight X to Cincinnati is cancelled. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Please proceed to the special service desk." At the conclusion of each pronouncement, a collective moan came from the passengers in the gate area, and while most of the geese headed toward the service desk (which was one poor airline representative behind a desk in front of a line of 200-300 passengers!), a few of the more volatile passengers decided to go "one on one" with a gate agent.

Look at the Big Picture

I felt sorry for both groups. From the passenger's viewpoint, particularly those who are older, or those with small (crying) children, being stuck in an airport for 10 or 20 hours seems like a pretty big deal to me. It is more than an inconvenience-I would compare it to having my wisdom teeth pulled or getting my finger slammed in a car door.

On the other hand, consider the plight of the gate agent. In many cases, he or she has seen their benefits reduced significantly and their pay cut by 10, 20 or even 30%. The average airline employee has also seen a continuous stream of highly compensated executives go in and out of their company as if through a revolving door, staying only long enough to reduce employee numbers, salaries and benefits, while at the same time receiving lavish severance packages on their way to the next victim. Wow, talk about a morale booster!

Assess Your Situation

Whenever any company-whether in the airline, ceramic or any industry-consistently implements practices that reduce employee morale, they must realize that the impact will be poor service, poor attendance and less than stellar performance. Some of my colleagues seem to be involved with companies of this ilk (you know who you are), and my suggestion is: LEAVE, as soon as you can!

Poor leadership teaches you to be indifferent and callous, and that is precisely what you don't want to be. People need to feel that they make a positive contribution in any organization. When their best efforts go unnoticed-or worse still, punished-even the best people have a hard time being their most creative and productive selves.

Our domestic ceramic companies have been under attack for the past decade by cheap imports. While some of them have turned the corner, the majority are just hanging on through cost cutting-i.e., reducing staff and avoiding productive investments. If you are in this situation, figure out your strengths, and then figure out what to do with them. It is far better to be on your own, perhaps only earning a portion of your current income, than suffering the indignity of working for a company that doesn't care about you or the customer.

Ralph Ruark is a regular contributor to, Ceramic Industry through the "Kiln Connection" column. An engineering consultant, he is dedicated to assisting ceramic companies with a variety of kiln and firing needs, leading kiln analysis efforts, providing training expertise, and improving operations. Ruark can be reached at (941) 360-3111, or e-mail .


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