man sitting on sofa with hand over eyes - appears stressed and dealing with burnout
Burnout can lead to staff departures

Recently, an industry friend called to talk about possibly looking for a new job.

He told me that he’s had a great experience working with his company and supporting its owner, but he expressed regret that the job and its expectations are in flux.

The owner is changing up the game by saying he wants to make more money flying charter. It’s a large jet staffed by two pilots, and they fly a fairly full schedule already.

The boss expects to add more charter hours, but he doesn’t want to add headcount. With this sort of plan, the whole value proposition of the job changes. 

What typically happens in these cases?

As people must spend more time away from home and/or perform at higher levels—but do not experience relief in terms of schedule or compensation—that’s often when people vote with their feet and walk.

And, in the current business aviation environment, it’s pretty easy to walk out of one job and into another.

What to Do

We all know that as flight hours ramp up, the whole team is impacted, including flight crew, cabin safety attendants, scheduling and maintenance—even departmental leadership.

And you don’t want to wait until flight hours get out of control before you hire someone.

So what do you do when circumstances like these bring your team to the point of burnout? The good news is, there are several fixes.

Listen to your team

“Listening” for burnout cues is always the best initial approach. As a manager, you need to be mindful of factors at play that can lead to burnout. And, once you do, you need to help your leadership be aware of the situation before it’s too late.

Make your business case

Whether you report to a family office, aircraft owner, or accountable executive at a corporation, give them details of the current environment, including the maintenance and pilot shortages. Show them the numbers of the cost to recruit, replace and retrain headcount in aviation.

According to Forbes, direct replacement costs for an employee outside of our industry can reach as high as 50 to 60 percent of an employee’s annual salary.

And the total cost associated with turnover can vary from 60 to 200 percent of annual salary. Add to that the high-priced cost of aircraft-type training, and those numbers skyrocket!

Create a burnout buffer

Look at fattening up your workforce by making an “opportunity hire.” Maybe you don’t need a full-time employee right now, but when you do need one, it might be too late. It’s easier to hire strategically rather than reactively, out of desperation.

Partnering with an aviation-based recruiter who is involved and knows the market can help you identify the right talent with the right motivator. Doing that when you are not “under the gun” helps you build a great team. 

And if you can’t make an “opportunity hire,” find a contractor that you can count on and schedule him or her like any other pilot, not just when the chips are down. 

Build a realistic schedule 

As I’ve pointed out in other blogs, people want money, but they also want some favorable scheduling. And they’ll often give up money for it.

On the buffer and scheduling points, a client we’re engaged with is working on creating a buffer and realistic schedule because of the way their new CEO flies (which requires quick-turn international trips and multiple crews).

The good news is that, because they’re aligned with the executive office, they’ve got the approval to add staff. The upshot is that they’re getting ahead of their demanding schedule so as not to burn people out.

Additional Burnout Agents

There are other aircraft owner-based developments that can lead to burnout. So be sure to keep a watchful eye out for any of these occurring in your organization. A few of them include:

  • Moving hangars and/or headquarters.
  • Increasing hours, especially charter hours, while maintaining the same staffing.
  • Changing fleet type, which requires all new type ratings. This intensifies when changing from one OEM to another.
  • Turnover in the C-Suite or with an accountable executive to whom your aviation organization reports.
  • Increase in the number of eligible users of the plane, which continues to happen post-pandemic.
  • Changes in aviation department leadership at the vice president or director level.

Just a gentle reminder: once that schedule ramps up too much, everything is at risk.

It’s not just related to our industry, either. It’s true of virtually any other business enterprise that the pressure points from multiple projects can lead to burnout, especially when you don’t have the optimal number of people on your team.

And, in today’s business environment, it’s difficult to add people on the spur of the moment. It used to be that you could hire someone locally and have them start in a couple of weeks, but I think those days and circumstances are gone, at least for the foreseeable future if not for good.

About the Author

Sheryl Barden, CAM, is the president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, the longest-running recruiting and HR consulting firm exclusively serving business aviation. A thought leader on all things related to business aviation professionals, Barden is a former member of NBAA’s board of directors and its advisory council.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by AIN Media Group.

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