In the summer of 2001, the airline industry was facing severe problems due to slumping business travel and vacationer demand. In fact, Northwest Airlines announced draconian cuts in both schedules and service; Midway Airlines declared bankruptcy in August of that year, citing a "calamitous" decline in air traffic. However, as bad as things were, they soon got worse.
The September11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC devastated the whole nation, but few segments of the economy felt the impact as dramatically as the already struggling airline industry. Even after reducing scheduled flights by more than 20 percent, most planes were taking off with fewer than half their seats filled, and airline shares lost a third of their value on the stock exchange. Most airlines needed to cut costs drastically in order to make ends meet, and over 100,000 employees were eventually laid off from American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, and America West.
Southwest Airlines bucked this trend however. Indeed, despite the regular ups and downs of the airline industry, in its 30 years of operation, Southwest had never laid off employees; remarkably, it was able to maintain this record even during the difficult Fall 2001 period. Southwest's no-layoff policy is one of the core values that underlie its human resource strategy, and insiders stress that it is one of the main reasons why Southwest workforce is so fiercely loyal, productive and flexible.
The high productivity of these workers keeps labour costs low, and these savings are passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices that are sometimes half those offered by competitors. High levels of job security also promote a willingness on the part of Southwest employees to be innovative on the job without fearing that they will be punished for any mistakes. Southwest also finds that satisfied employees help create satisfied customers and can even help in recruiting new employees when economic conditions are conducive to growth.
In order to keep this perfect no-layoff record in 2001, Southwest executives assembled into an emergency command and control centre in Dallas and brainstormed methods other than layoffs that could reduce costs. Decisions were made to delay the planned purchase of new planes, as well as to scrap ongoing plans to renovate the company's headquarters. The company which had no debt and over a billion dollars in cash, also leaned heavily on this "rainy-day" fund to help get through tough times. It was a difficult and painful process, but as CEO Jim Parker noted, "We are willing to suffer some damage, even to our stock price, to protect the jobs of our people."
(a) Describe the Human Resource Planning process. Support your answer by using examples from the case.
(b) "Southwest's no-layoff policy is one of the core values that underline its human resource strategy". Based on information provided in the case, discuss Southwest's decision not to utilise the downsizing stragegy.