The pandemic’s impact on the work environment has intensified calls for a fundamental revision of certain longstanding deficiencies in the relationship between employers and employees. The demands of caregiving during this crisis, in particular, have shown that employers need to better understand how responsibilities outside of work impact employees and to appreciate how policies that accommodate caregivers can benefit the entire industry.
“COVID-19 made us take a hard look at how we perceive employees who are also caregivers. There already was a shortage of skilled labor for child and elder care, but once the pandemic hit, the landscape for caregiving shifted completely,” said Jessica Webster, pilot, founder and president of Hera Aviation Group and lead of the Caregiving Group within the NBAA Business Aviation Management Committee’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Subcommittee.
“As an industry, the pandemic forced us to stop looking at workers in a linear fashion – one that only considered what an employee could do for an organization – and instead consider the relationship between the employers and employee based on reciprocity, one where employers look at employees in a more human way,” Webster added.
The pandemic also enabled misconceptions about caregiving to be publicly aired.
“Caregiving certainly can include people who are caring for their children, but it goes far beyond that,” said Reid Columbia, a chief pilot for a Fortune 250 company and member of NBAA’s Caregiving Group.
“Caregiving will affect almost everyone at some point in their life,” declared Columbia. “For some, it will be for a short period, while for others it can be a life-long commitment. For too long, caregivers have been perceived to be this small group of people that have chosen this responsibility and therefore it is for them to resolve any conflicts with work. But, in reality, caregivers are not a unique and separate group, they are representative of us all.”
There has also been a societal shift that recognizes the importance of caregiving, says Columbia, noting that surveys of workers consistently find that employees – particularly those just entering the workforce – want companies to embrace policies that address personal issues as much as they do pay and traditional benefits.
Many of these policies, such as flexible spending accounts for dependent care, child and eldercare resources, legal support and mental health resources, are already available, especially at larger organizations. However, it is imperative that employers and leadership let employees know they are available.
“By doing this, organizations show that they recognize life events exist and that they are committed to invest the time and resources into understanding their workforce better to determine their individual needs,” says Lisa G. Swartzwelder, director of shuttle operations and flight administration at L Brands Service Company and a member of the NBAA Operations Committee.
By supporting and promoting these resources, employers also reinforce their positive relationships with employees, says Catrina Capistrant, assistant chief pilot for a Fortune 100 company.
“By making this information accessible, you empower employees and create a psychologically safe environment that lets people know that their jobs are secure and that they will always be valued as a contributor, even if they have challenges outside of the workplace. This is the type of environment that energizes employees to contribute,” explained Capistrant.
Adapting Personnel Policies
Policies unique to business aviation also need to be adapted to address the demands of caregiving. Paid time off (PTO), for instance, should be permitted for individual days, not just for entire weeks. Also, non-vacation PTO should be offered to all employees, regardless of tenure or seniority.
On-demand scheduling can reduce or eliminate a caregiver’s ability to plan to accommodate their work and home needs because it does not offer the flexibility and transparency demanded by the modern workforce. This lack of flexibility and transparency is already impacting business aviation’s ability to attract and retain workers, says Webster.
“These systems were developed in an era that accommodated one employee group, and today these systems are having a direct effect on our industry’s ability to attract and retain talent,” she said. “We must be willing to create different systems that support unique individuals and underrepresented cohorts, the very people who are critical to driving innovation in our industry and ensuring our community thrives.”
There are many ways to introduce flexibility and transparency into a business aviation operation, ranging from flexible scheduling to part-time and job-sharing positions. “Agile work” can be especially valuable for people that require flexibility.
“Agile work is a way of working in which an organization empowers its people to work where, when, and how they choose – with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints – to optimize their performance and to do their best work,” explained Webster. “This tenet might be where an employee chooses to be trained to serve multiple roles in an organization – for example, a pilot also trained as a scheduler – and this can also ensure workers contribute fully to an organization beyond their primary function.”
The goal is to build resilience and redundancy into the staffing model, said Swartzwelder. “As an industry, we need to learn from the mistakes of not having redundancies and resilience built into our organizations. We need more layers – especially in our talent pool – to ensure we can operate in a way that allows employees to have a life beyond work.”
“COVID-19 made us take a hard look at how we perceive employees who are also caregivers. Once the pandemic hit, the landscape for caregiving shifted completely. ”
JESSICA WEBSTER Founder and President, Hera Aviation Group
Resources such as NBAA’s pilot and maintenance technician staff calculator, contained in the association’s Management Guide, are a good starting point for operators to determine optimal staffing levels that accommodate the personal needs of their employees, like vacation time, PTO and unscheduled caregiving responsibilities. Organizations should also build a network of contract employees and develop relationships with vendors, especially maintenance partners, as a supplement to employees.
“Flight departments do not operate in a silo; people are available all around you that can help, whether it’s to crew a trip, benchmark your efforts or talk about safety performance goals,” said Capistrant. “Each functional group needs to have a network of contract talent available to help if something happens.”
“Start with your neighbors,” Capistrant advises. For those who work at an airport, there is no better place to find contract staff or get recommendations. “Pay a visit to other operators and maintenance providers to build those relationships. Also, it doesn’t hurt to keep in touch with former colleagues; a lot of the contractor recommendations that I receive come from someone who used to work with us,” she noted.
The Cost of Inflexibility
Not having caregiver-friendly employment policies in place can be costly.
“Through the pandemic, the country has lost more than $60 billion in revenue due to loss of individuals to caregiving,” noted Webster. “Caregiving is not a choice for people, it is a necessity. As a community, if we care about our infrastructure, we need to connect that to the idea of caregiving, because at some point in our lives, all of us will become caregivers,” she says.
“We are losing a lot of our workforce due to caregiving,” Webster continued. “We talk about safety culture, a psychologically safe workplace and attracting high-performing, high-value individuals. But if we don’t address the issue of caregiving – if we don’t look at employees as a whole person and support them with policies that acknowledge their needs – we are not going to attract or retain the people we desire.”
Changing established work practices to accommodate new ideas can be daunting. However, with the right approach, every organization can successfully adapt new policies that embrace socially responsible behaviors, like caregiving and diversity, equity and inclusion, said Columbia.
“Everyone involved – employers and employees, alike – need to approach the caregiving conversation with empathy, understanding and flexibility. And it is important to have that conversation. As an industry, we need to understand that we only grow if we appreciate, acknowledge and embrace underrepresented communities like caregivers.”