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Delta Launches, Then Pauses, Employee Recognition Program After Backlash

Outside Actors Criticize the Program, Accusing the Airline of “Violation of Our Privacy”

The News: On May 27, news emerged about Delta Air Lines’ plan to share the first names of flight attendants with passengers in emails that will be sent to customers a day before their flight, as part of a new employee recognition tool. The tool, in which passengers can see only the first names of the flight crew operating on their upcoming flight, allows customers to write comments about the service they received, and attribute the feedback to specific crew members.

Delta decided to pause the rollout of the new tool just a few days after it had become public, in response to employee pushback, though the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA), a union organization that does not represent Delta flight attendants, also claimed its petition to stop the rollout of the tool was also responsible for the pause. The AFA claimed that the employee recognition tool, which would only share the first names of the flight crew to those holding tickets on the specific flight, was a “thinly veiled attempt to manage us without being on the aircraft, implemented without our knowledge or input. For those who have dealt with harassment, intimidation and even assault, the violation of our privacy is deeply concerning.”

You can view more details in this news report on the recognition tool here.

Delta Launches, Then Pauses, Employee Recognition Program After Backlash

Analyst Take: News broke at the start of the Memorial Day weekend in the United States that Delta Air Lines had planned to share the first names of its flight attendants with those holding boarding passes on a specific flight, to allow them to provide more specific employee recognition to its flight crew members for a job well done. However, after Delta employees expressed concerns about the program, the airline quickly paused the rollout. The AFA-CWA, a union organization that has been trying to persuade Delta flight attendants to allow the union to represent them, said its petition was responsible for Delta pausing the rollout of the employee recognition tool, but various reports indicate that Delta employees’ concerns were the primary reason for the company’s quick response.

The Value of Personalized Employee Recognition

One of the key measures of job satisfaction is being recognized for a job well done. In many customer-facing roles, the process for providing individual employee recognition is clear. For example, wait staff in a traditional table service-based restaurant are recognized through the provision of a tip. While a 15%-20% tip is considered compulsory for service that meets expectations, many diners will choose to further recognize great service by tipping more.

One way that servers create a better dining experience is by creating a connection with the customer; they will introduce themselves to the table with their name, and will write their name on the bill, often with another message of thanks. This demonstrates accountability for the guests’ experience, and if they do a good job, most often they will be rewarded monetarily.

Even in roles where direct monetary compensation is not expected, such as with the case with flight crews, there should be a mechanism for customers to acknowledge workers who provide good or great customer experiences. The Delta employee recognition tool appeared to be a step in the right direction, in terms of letting customers provide feedback that could be directed to individuals, rather than a team or company.

Outside Actors Criticize the Program

The AFA-CFW, which has been trying to make inroads into Delta’s flight attendant pool (They currently are not represented by a union), said there was significant backlash among Delta flight attendants, and Delta issued a statement indicating it would pause the program.

The program itself does not seem to be a breach of privacy. The program shared the first names of flight attendants – which are clearly visible on their nametags, and are mentioned at the beginning of the flight over the aircraft PA system – so that after the flight, customers can leave a compliment that is directed to a specific flight attendant. Furthermore, flight attendants were also able to opt out of this program if they preferred.

There appear to be two factors at work, in terms of the employee recognition tool being paused. One, an outside union is trying to insert itself into a Delta issue, ostensibly to demonstrate it is willing to fight on behalf of flight attendants. That is nothing new; unions are, of course, always trying to attract new members.

However, the second factor revolves around positioning. Delta, most likely, had very good intentions with the program. After all, most flyers realize the difficult job flight attendants have, and many would like the opportunity to participate in an employee recognition program, if it were efficient and they could be assured that the feedback was being seen by the employees. Proper execution and positioning of an employee recognition program as a benefit to employees is critical to gaining acceptance.

Employee Recognition Programs Require Clear and Transparent Policies, Procedures, and Metrics

The problems with this employee recognition program rollout revolved around a lack of clarity, in terms of who would receive the feedback, how it would be used, and the lack of statements surrounding how employees would be protected or shielded from unwanted advances.

Although Delta said it would only forward positive feedback and compliments to crew members, concerns about how negative feedback on a crew or crew member may be used by the airline surely caused some employees to worry about the program. Spelling out how the feedback will be used, as well as specific procedures surrounding how negative feedback is handled, are a key element to gaining employee buy-in for any employee recognition program.

Second, clear policies on how employees are measured on feedback must be disclosed. Providing customers with the ability to provide feedback on the service they received via an email link may yield good insights, but it can also be a repository for misplaced frustration and anger that have little to do with a flight attendant’s actual level of service. Ensuring that there is a fair and transparent process for evaluating the volume and nature of positive and negative comments sent through an employee recognition system is paramount to making sure employees are on board.

Finally, while there may be unpleasant or downright creepy customers across the spectrum of different types of businesses, the confined space of an airliner can amplify workers’ feelings that they are in a fishbowl, easy targets for those who might choose to harass them even after they are “off the clock.” Organizations need to ensure that customer-facing employee recognition tools do not provide any additional identifying information (including pictures of) employees, as it is too easy to quickly identify a person via the internet with even a scant bit of information.

Delta appears to have done a good job of making sure that first names of crew members were the only piece of data made available, and it is likely that many workers eschew their legal first names for middle names or nicknames on their nametags, to ensure their privacy. However, providing the names in an email in advance of the flight may not be required; after all, crews can change quickly, and, by scheduling the email to arrive after customers have deplaned may help deter bad actors from fixating on a crew member during the flight.

Author Information

Keith has over 25 years of experience in research, marketing, and consulting-based fields.

He has authored in-depth reports and market forecast studies covering artificial intelligence, biometrics, data analytics, robotics, high performance computing, and quantum computing, with a specific focus on the use of these technologies within large enterprise organizations and SMBs. He has also established strong working relationships with the international technology vendor community and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events.

In his career as a financial and technology journalist he has written for national and trade publications, including BusinessWeek, CNBC.com, Investment Dealers’ Digest, The Red Herring, The Communications of the ACM, and Mobile Computing & Communications, among others.

He is a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

Keith holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Magazine Journalism and Sociology from Syracuse University.

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