When corporate culture goes bad

I’ve watched the developments at Ryanair unfold with a combination of incredulity and interest – I have to admit that it isn’t a company I’ve historically had a lot of time for and I’ll do pretty much anything to avoid using their services. The management of their recent issues, however, seems to have taken bad people management to a new, low-level.

If you don’t know the story, on 16 September they announced that they were going to be cancelling about 40-50 flights per day for a period of six weeks to “improve punctuality”, however, they weren’t (couldn’t?) going to tell people which flights in advance. The following day they added to this that they’d, “messed up” the holiday schedules of pilots as a result of changing the holiday year from financial to calendar year.

Then the stories started emerging of a pilot shortage which the company denied (although Norwegian Air say they’ve recruited 140 pilots from Ryanair this year and another airline who hired 40 pilots said 32 came from Ryanair). Instead the company offered their existing pilots a one-off bonus of £12,000 or €12,000 if they agreed to work extra hours, extra days and have low levels of sickness absence. Which didn’t go down well with the existing pilots – who saw it as an attempt to skirt around the real issue. The company responded by saying they were going to cancel part of their pilots’ holidays.

CEO Michael O’Leary said Ryanair had, “”some goodies” to propose to pilots, but added: “If pilots misbehave, that will be the end of the goodies.”


Whatever the facts behind the story, the underlying management issues seem pretty clear and are encapsulated by the comments from O’Leary. Ultimately, if you treat employees badly it will come back to bite you at some point – they’re grown up human beings, not children in the primary school playground.

In this case, the issue has come at the cost of an overwhelming operational failure. Ryanair is a provider of flights and they’re unable to provide those flights to customers because their HRM strategy (and PR strategy) has gone woefully wrong. If the employee relations were good and positive, then none of this would have happened.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the issue is holiday scheduling, pilot numbers or pilot availability. In a well run organisation, the issue would have become apparent, a good conversation would have taken place with employees and a collective solution would have been found. The fact that this has played out in the public clearly suggests this wasn’t the case.

Creating positive company cultures with good employee relations is a fundamental part of successfully running an organisation. It won’t necessarily prevent problems from occurring (the world is not perfect), but it will certainly help to solve them when they arise. I’d wager the problems at Ryanair go deeper than simple technical issues of scheduling and whilst consumers might be quick to forget, I’m not sure the employee base will be able to do the same.