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  • Writer's pictureHeini Noronen-Juhola

(Quiet) quitting in aviation

The world of aviation is beautiful. Think about the aerodynamically smoothly designed giant aeroplanes that majestically make their way through the clouds. Those devices give you promises about all the interesting places in the world; the sunsets in the orient, the beaches at the oceans, the culinary experiments in the exciting cities around the globe. Think about the airports; the excitement of the departures, the bittersweet farewells, the love and the excitement of the reunions. This world is full of emotions.

Inside this beautiful world the business is fierce. The airlines are competing with each other in every way they can. The fuel prices have gone up because of the pandemia and the war in Ukraine. Same applies to the other prices like the services the airlines need for their operations. After the pandemia all the airlines are in a very challenging financial situation because of the huge losses of profits. Sustainability actions like using the sustainable aviation fuel would add up the costs even further. Moving the escalated costs to the ticket prices isn't that easy because the passengers might turn to the other airlines. On top of this all, the aviation industry has been the one that has always been the one to take hits first if something global (like the financial crisis in 2008) happens.

The airports and the other stakeholders are in similar situation. The air traffic was basically put on hold. The airports didn't have flights nor did they have passengers at the airport shops and restaurants. The airfield and the terminal infrastructure had to be maintained so the costs couldn't be cut that dramatically. The shops and the restaurants had to be closed in many occasions. The ground handling service providers like the ramp services, fueling companies or catering services didn't have flights to serve. Now the businesses at the airports are recovering as the flights are starting to operate again, but a lot of profits have been lost.

But, the employees in the aviation industry have practically loved their business. Because of the emotional aspects, the mental commitment to the industry has been rather tight. There has been a purpose. In the crisis periods the idea has been to go through the tough times together. Traditionally it has been so that if you come to the industry, you rarely go somewhere else anymore. You might change your job or the employer, but you don't quit the industry anymore. Now in the rapidly changing world, is it still so?

The term "quiet quitting" is very hot. It means the situation where the people put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. They might be questioning their salary, career, values or how they are treated at work. In the end the situation might end up to actual quitting. No industry is safe from this, not even the aviation.

During the pandemia many aviation companies were laying people off to save costs. In some countries you can legally lay people off temporarily but in some countries it means just terminating the work agreements. In this situation, what makes people return when the work situation improves again? Salary? Work conditions? The team? The emotional part of the industry? Those people whose work agreement was terminated, might have found positions in more stable industries and are not willing to come back anymore. Those people who were laid off temporarily, have an option to think. Even though there might be the love for the industry, at some stage the emotional part isn't just enough anymore, if the other things are opposing like they often are now after the pandemia.

If you are treated as a cost in your company, if you are just a line at an Excel sheet to your management, if you are an asset that can be traded into a less experienced and a less expensive asset, you end up being fed up. If you have to explain your new boss why safety needs to be stressed or why maintenance is crucial at runways, the love for the industry doesn't help any more. If you see that your company is greenwashing the sustainability actions, you just get sad. There are many people in the industry that have seen the culture get ruined and many skillful colleagues leave. The purpose has been diluted. For one person left there are several thinking about that. The love for the industry still keeps them there, for a while.

The industry is changing and cost-effectiveness is needed. The companies have to be also economically sustainable. Cost savings are taking place. But at some point, if you are saving at the cost side at any legal way, you might end up making actions that are morally, ethically or environmentally questionable. You lose trust. Every employee wants to be proud of their employer. Every employee wants to represent an ethically and a morally respected employer. If these a gone, the only thing left is the salary. And that you can get somewhere else most likely bigger and nicer. And that's how the quiet quitting turns into quitting; also in the aviation industry.

Even though the companies might think about good business decisions, the customers might think the same way as the employees do. The passengers have values and moral too and they can see what's happening. Quiet quitting applies to them as well. When this happens, the cost savings start turning against the original meaning. And that's just bad business.

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