Elevated by enjoyment

Low-fare carrier Jetstar Asia goes full throttle in ensuring that its crew are propelled to put their best foot forward by always representing the company’s value of being “passionate about enjoyment”.

An expectant mother was travelling on a Jetstar Asia flight from Singapore to Yangon, Myanmar, when she began experiencing contractions. The Jetstar crew, who spoke in her native Burmese language, were quick to spring into action. They stayed by her side and made sure she was kept as calm and comfortable as possible. They also did not waste a minute to call for medical assistance, which was waiting as soon as the aircraft touched ground.

But it was too late to move her to a hospital or even just off the plane. The passenger went into labour just as soon as the aircraft landed and again, Jetstar’s flight attendants were ready to answer the call. With the help of doctors, the woman gave birth to healthy baby boy, the unusual surroundings calling for an unusual compliment – the mother later named her son “Saw Jet Star” because she was so moved and impressed by the care she received from the airline.

This is the type of precision, readiness and efficiency that Jetstar Asia Airways prides itself on, says the company’s Head of People Corinna Cheang.  

In that light, it was probably nothing out of the ordinary to find her ready and waiting for HRM Asia’s interview five minutes ahead of schedule.

The HR division, or “People” team, as Cheang quickly points out, is also an embodiment of the Jetstar efficiency. It was fully set-up and raring to get the interview started, armed with a comprehensive and thoroughly-prepared set of presentation slides and notes.

“By calling HR the ‘people’ team, we give greater focus to people and teams within the organisation,” says Cheang, as she introduces her department of people managers, who oversee cabin crew, technical crew, and corporate employees respectively.

Life-changing customer service – such as the case of assisting with a premature birth – is a vital part of Jetstar’s promise to its customers. Cheang says the people team takes on a lot of that responsibility through its dedication to the employee cause.

Cheang, who joined Jetstar in 2012, says her focus has been on ramping up that team’s abilities, so as to address the varied needs of the carrier’s dynamic and multigenerational workforce.

Strategy pillars

The self-described “low-fare” carrier (as opposed to a “low cost” business) has 444 cabin crew staff, the majority of whom are under 30 years old. 

Another 20% of staff are aged between 31 and 40, while more than 25% of the workforce are aged 41 and over.

“Today we have at least four generations of people working alongside each other, even going into five generations,” says Cheang.

With this diversity of age, and almost 60% of Jetstar’s workforce being cabin crew or in other frontline roles, the people team has to make sure top-level customer service is represented and reinforced throughout the company’s operations.

Cheang says Jetstar’s multi-layered people management strategy is pivotal to this objective. It is rooted in the organisation’s “six key pillars” which provides the all-important framework for the sometimes dizzying range of policies and initiatives.

As an aviation business, one of these pillars is, unsurprisingly, about safety and responsibility.

“This is where we work on protecting our people, since they are the greatest assets within the organisation,” Cheang explains.

The broad range of employee programmes certainly proves the company's commitment to its people asset.

The other key pillars that employee initiatives are based around are: building outstanding employee experience so that people are proud to work for the company; developing great leaders and people managers; building talent and growth-capabilities; building a high-performance organisation; and being constantly ready to embrace organisational changes.

With these guidelines in place, Cheang says that in 2016, the team’s focus has been on “building capabilities and strength” in the areas of people engagement, people development and people retention – a three-pronged approach to a well-rounded workforce.

Social engagement

Jetstar's stance on employee engagement is all about building an inclusive culture to ensure that its multigenerational workforce is able to interact with one other harmoniously and fruitfully, says Cheang.

Because of the prevalence of younger staff who spend most of their time online in some capacity, the usage of web technology as an engagement strategy has become of “utmost importance”.

And one technology that has been adopted by all internal stakeholders at Jetstar is Microsoft's Yammer, an internal social media platform fashioned after Facebook that allows management to update employees on company happenings, and allow staff themselves to share whatever they like.

Cheang shares examples of how flight attendants participating in corporate social responsibility activities have posted and shared their experiences with the rest of the company via Yammer.

When passengers compliment the cabin crew, the people management team will also share the positive feedback on the platform so that the entire company can revel in the good news.

“It's a very informal channel for the millennials, and it's a good way for us to know where they are,” she says.

Yammer has only been in use for two years, but according to Cheang, is already well-entrenched within Jetstar's company culture.

“All employees can post anything they want to. Jetstar Group has five Jetstar Branded Airlines, so Yammer also allows each airline and cross-functional groups to speak to each other. So we do a lot of social networking within the platform, with lots of news updates, group updates as well as cross-functional task force activities.”

Playing hard

Beyond technology, the company also believes that working hard, and playing hard together as a team, helps to keep the company united and employees engaged.

Cheang, who refers to employees as “team members” throughout the interview, lights up when she talks about the many fun activities and initiatives that take place all year round.

“We believe that happy crew, happy team members and happy people will lead to great business,” she says.

For one, employees always look forward to the annual staff party in November, Cheang eagerly shares. While it is similar to the usual “Dinner & Dance” all companies hold, at Jetstar, it is employees themselves who drive and plan the entire evening right down to the very last detail.

“Our team members put up the show. They will be the emcees, they will choreograph the dance performances; so it's basically planned for employees, by employees.

“It says a lot about our organisational culture and that's how we want it,” says Cheang.

Another event that is always a hit with employees is “Bring Your Kids To Work Day”. Staff members can bring their children into the Jetstar offices for a day, where they can learn about what their parents do, what the aviation industry is all about, all while singing, dancing and just having good ol' fun.

Last year, Chief Pilot Richard Doran gave a presentation on aviation to these budding aviators of tomorrow. “A lot of thought, planning and logistics go into a full-day event like this,” Cheang says.

“Bring Your Kids To Work Day” has taken place in Singapore for the last two years, and Cheang says there is always a rush to sign children up because there are only 35 slots available.

“It's not something we sanction, it's not something that we say you must do, but it's something that comes out of the fact that the culture of the company is really one of empowerment and fun,” says Cheang.

To keep things fun and fresh, Jetstar also celebrates special occasions like Halloween and Singapore's National Day. For this year's National Day for example, flight attendants used only Singlish (Singaporean slang) to make in-flight announcements on selected flights.

Cabin crew will also don Halloween costumes this October as they spook passengers on board a Halloween-themed flight.

Consistent values

Fun and games aside, Jetstar's workplace culture and its policies are also deeply shaped by the company's six values, which include “energetically efficient”, “passionate about enjoyment”, “genuinely care” and “one team”.

Cheang says the airline takes these values very seriously and expects all employees to exhibit the traits consistently.

“It's not only something we put on paper, but it's something that we live. If you walk through our offices, we have the values put up on walls everywhere,” she states.

In fact, employees are heavily evaluated against how well they have adhered to the values during performance reviews so as to encourage them to really live the values.

According to Cheang, the values make up 40% of an individual's performance review – a significant weightage. The carrier's existing performance management framework was launched in 2012 to encompass this indicator.

To give team members recognition for embodying the corporate values, Jetstar also introduced Bravo, an online real-time platform that enables staff to compliment each other when they see other colleagues embracing the values. The positive feedback are then formalised through a quarterly Bravo award ceremony, followed by an annual one.

One previous awardee was cabin crew manager Mayu Fukada, who won for how she embraced the value of “consistently can do”. Cheang recounts how Fukada deftly made arrangements for a Hong Konger traveller's wallet to be returned after discovering that he had left it back in the hotel, which was an hour away.

“(All these measures) say a lot about how we believe in building the company's future based on the values,” says Cheang, adding that it also helps create a high-performance culture.

Support from leaders

These initiatives have certainly paid off on the employee engagement front.

“We have done very well in staff engagement results this year. The participation rate is higher than last year and the results are on par with the national norms,” says Cheang.

That's because, Cheang adds, the top ranks within the organisation – including CEO Bharathan Pasupathi – really listen to employees, and treat talent management as an important part of their day-to-day work.

HR organises a “talent conversation” that takes place twice a year, which CEO Pasupathi sits in for. During these sessions, an open dialogue takes place so that employees know “what's in it for them” and how they can grow within the organisation.

“We're very well-supported by Mr. Bara, who was recently accorded the 'Leading CEO' award by SHRI,” shares Cheang proudly.

“(And) we really do listen to our people. When we launch an engagement initiative, we call it 'One Team, Many Voices'. When we enact the action plan, we have a poster that says 'you spoke, we listened, and we worked on the feedback that you gave us.'”

Lateral progression for all crew

An ex-military fighter pilot, Captain Edmund Tan joined Jetstar Asia as a Senior First Officer in 2010 after fulfilling a 27-year-long career with the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

In just two years, he became a Jetstar Captain and continues to contribute by doubling as a fuel savings manager and line instructor pilot.

Such is the premise of Jetstar's “Career Progression” framework, which aims to give all cabin crew, tech crew and even corporate employees the opportunity to take on other roles and responsibilities outside of their primary jobs.

This is good news for employees who are older, and whose circumstances have changed and are no longer able to fly, says Cheang.

Under this framework, pilots are given clear guidelines on what it takes for them to progress not only their primary career within Jetstar, but also potential specialistion choices depending on their preferences.

For pilots who seek new challenges, they can choose to transfer to other carries within Jetstar’s group of Branded Airlines.

Cheang explains that there is a shortage pilots across the world today because of competition from Chinese operators. Thus, this career progression initiative is its solution to combating pilot, and even, cabin crew attrition.

Cabin crew also have clearly stipulated roadmaps on how they can move on to what are called “lateral roles” that are ground-based, should they wish to.

“We do have very experienced cabin crew today that offer mentorship to younger crew members. We identify cabin crew with flying experience to be able to take on mentoring and coaching type roles so that they can progress to become trainers and customer experience managers,” says Cheang.

Who's who

  • Corinna Cheang, Head of People
  • May Yeo, People Manager
  • Cindy Yap, People Manager
  • Iriz Zhu, People Manager
  • Elaine Phua, Senior HR Executive
  • Goh Wan Yan, HR Officer
  • Jolene Loh, HR Officer

 

Total number of employees at Jetstar Asia Airways: More than 750

Size of the HR Team: 10

Key HR Focus Areas:

  • People Management
  • People Development
  • People Retention

 

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