Addressing employee dissatisfaction

Alixio undertook an engagement for the senior executive team of a high-profile tourism organisation to understand and resolve persistent employee dissatisfaction.

Signs of the general malaise inside the company included:

  • A strike by a large proportion of the employees, motivated by a variety of grievances
  • A memo from a workplace physician alerting management to high levels of stress among employees
  • Reticence over the recent launch of a far-reaching transformation programme
  • Complaints by elected representatives concerning mounting pressure and falling standards of service to the public.

The management team wanted a no-holds-barred review of the situation in order to understand what was happening in the company.

The method adopted by Alixio involved conducting a preliminary series of semi-structured interviews to identify employees’ attitudes, emotional responses and professional self-image as a way to understand the human issues at play within the organisation and identify potential levers for improvement.

Our study identified a number of paradoxical situations calling for prompt attention: employees felt that management had little understanding of what the organisation stood for, that they felt no affinity for it and were solely focused on financial goals. Employees felt that “operations” had become more important than the institution to which they felt so deeply attached.

Our study revealed that the employees interviewed seldom referred to middle management or their direct line managers. We interpreted this as a sign of low engagement by management and inadequate understanding of management’s role. This was borne out by a rise of individualism throughout the organisation at the expense of team spirit.

The solutions proposed were based on a simple idea, namely to build on employees’ pride in working for this highly regarded institution as the basis for a strategy to support — rather than resist — the transformation programme already in place.

Specifically, management developed a new communication strategy that systematically shifted the emphasis from the operating entity to the institution, the idea being to send employees a strong message that the leadership and management teams had embraced the institution itself and everything it stands for. A proactive communication policy ultimately helped to turn around the confrontational relationship between management and the unions.

 

The outcome was a joint project shared by management and staff to draft new mission statements for both the operating entity and the institution proper, and ultimately to reaffirm the organisation’s core purpose and vision in order to sustain the institution’s symbolic value through employee participation.

 

Catherine Henri, Senior Manager, Alixio