The purpose of this idea is to engage in a research process to develop an airport industry Guidebook and Toolkit on topics related to implementing a positive culture and enhancing the employee experience within airports. The end product would be a set of user-friendly products to guide airports in enhancing their culture and employee experience to improve retention.
Airports are facing many challenges that can impact the employee experience and subsequently, employees' intent to remain. Changes such as new technological developments, increasing competitive and financial pressures, increasing demands to provide a unique passenger experience, and changes to the workforce due to retiring Baby Boomers which can result in open positions and potential understaffing are all currently impacting the airport industry (Cronin et al., 2016). Not only can these types of changes impact the airport environment and employee experience, but safety concerns, demanding customers, and urgent situations inherent to working in an airport create a demanding workplace for airport employees. Because organizational culture is a relatively enduring and widespread context within which employees work, it impacts the employee experience and can either positively influence or negatively influence important outcomes of interest, such as turnover (Ostroff, Kinicki, and Mohammed, 2012). Work performed to implement a positive culture and enhance the employee experience in airports can enhance long-term retention outcomes and result in more engaged employees. Because recruitment and staffing issues are prevalent in the airport industry, other factors that increase turnover (i.e., a negative culture or employee experience) can greatly exacerbate these issues and have a significant impact on an airport's bottom line. On the other hand, improving retention can help address some of these industry challenges directly. Therefore, it is important to promote employee engagement where possible to enhance retention by addressing employee needs. To this end, airports across the nation should cultivate an environment that is conducive to a positive airport culture and leads to enhanced employee experiences, thereby improving retention.
A key element of retaining employees is being a place where people want to work. Research has shown there is a link between job satisfaction and organizational culture. More specifically, "innovative organizational cultures seem to be most positively correlated with personal accomplishment, suggesting that staff who perceive their workplaces to be more dynamic and entrepreneurial have a greater sense of satisfaction in their roles (p. 143, Belias and Koustelios, 2014)." Furthermore, job satisfaction is related to other important organizational outcomes including turnover intentions, well-being and stress, and job performance, among others (Schleicher, Hansen, and Fox, 2011). Developing an airport workforce culture that is positive, innovative and collaborative is important not only to adapt to changes within the industry, but also to help attract and retain employees. Because airports exist in an environment that is faced with both external and internal changes (e.g., technology, staffing, etc.), implementing a positive culture that adapts to changes when necessary can have long-term effects on employees and the workplace. While more tenured employees are accustomed to traditional work environments (and consequently, often described as "old-fashioned" or "stuck in their ways"), younger incoming employees are often forward thinking and seeking a flexible work environment with an attractive organizational culture. Airports with more traditional government structures that lack flexibility in terms of scheduling or work arrangements often fail to match younger employees' expectations and may be perceived as undesirable. It is important to keep these areas in mind as younger generations become eligible for airport work, interested in airport jobs, and enter airport organizations.
To help improve retention and engagement, airports seek ways to best appeal to the workforce they want to attract and retain. This includes ways to enhance the full scope of benefits they offer to employees as an organization. Airports may need to consider going beyond traditional compensation packages to also include elements of the total work experience, such as organizational culture, the work environment, societal impact, and career opportunities. The present research idea provides such an opportunity. Airports seek strategies to adapt their culture in ways that, moving forward, can continuously adapt to the ever-shifting changes in the airport environment. As part of this, airports seek innovative practices for training both new and existing members of their workforce. Additionally, airports seek to understand the strategies that exist for encouraging a spirit of collaboration, creativity and innovation among airport staff.
One of the priority areas that emerged from the ACRP 11-02/Task 35 Research Roadmap on Administration and HR Issues, "Build a Forward-Thinking Culture" involves developing methods and tools to enhance the culture and employee experience (Solook et al., 2020). A goal of building a forward-thinking culture is to adjust the culture to be more innovative and collaborative to adapt to the changing industry. In a similar vein, the purpose of the present research idea is to generate content and tools to positively impact the employee experience and contribute to a positive culture across airports and ultimately enhance retention. Furthermore, this research idea is also an opportunity to "Engage" airport employees, contributing to the Airport Workforce Development emerging issue for ACRP (ACRP, n.d.). Research ideas that help "Engage" employees determine "where cultural change within airports and across the industry may be needed to improve employee engagement and ultimately result in positive outcomes such increased employee commitment and productivity as well as improved perceptions of how the industry treats its employees (thereby resulting in more attraction of future workers and retention of current workers)." Similarly, the present research idea will help address this emerging issue by stimulating research that provides concrete tools to help airports implement a positive culture and enhance the employee experience.
Armed with the right tools, airports can focus on improving the employee experience to create a more committed and engaged workforce, resulting in increased retention. While focusing on culture and the employee experience may be perceived as a daunting task for individual airports that do not possess the knowledge or resources to implement it effectively, the development of a Guidebook and Toolkit for implementing a positive culture and enhancing the employee experience can provide airports with the guidance they need to take action. The results of this research would provide a simple, user-friendly approach that is based on industry research and best practices and that can be implemented flexibly based on specific employee needs within each airport.
The objective of this research is to provide airports with a means by which to retain employees by focusing on implementing a positive culture and enhancing the employee experience. The main outcome should be a user-friendly Guidebook and Toolkit that lays out common challenges impacting airport culture and employee experience, the types of programs or strategies that can be used to address these challenges, and provides resources airports can use to assess their own culture and employee experience and plan for organizational improvements.
The proposed research will occur in three main phases.
Phase 1: Develop an Understanding of Best Practices for Implementing a Positive Culture and Enhancing the Employee Experience. The first step of this phase will be to conduct a literature review related to organizational culture and employee experience. A goal of this literature review will be to compile best practices and methods to change organizational culture and enhance the employee experience, both in airports and across industries. The review will focus on identifying the components of a positive culture, the benefits of implementing a positive culture, and methods of implementing a positive culture. Furthermore, to complement findings on culture, the review will uncover the most impactful aspects of the employee experience, the benefits of enhancing the employee experience, and best practices in enhancing the employee experience. Next, data collections from airport employees should be used to identify the most impactful aspects of the culture and employee experience that should be enhanced. This could include quantitative data collection (e.g., a brief survey) to identify the aspects of the culture and employee experience that would be most impactful as well as considerations for airports to make their own assessments.
Phase 2: Validate the Components Discovered in Phase 1 with Airport Experts and Identify Successful Strategies for Enhancing the Culture and Employee Experience. The objective of Phase 2 will be to build on Phase 1 results by collecting additional qualitative data from stakeholders. This will involve conducting interviews with airport professionals who are knowledgeable about airport culture and the employee experience. For example, Human Resource representatives may be able to discuss issues that they have experienced or heard from employees first-hand, or other leaders may be able to speak to the organizational culture and employee experience. Additionally, data will be gathered from airport representatives who have successfully implemented strategies that have a positive impact on employee well-being as well as experts outside of the airport industry who can provide best practice solutions. Through this process, more detailed information regarding airport culture, employee experience, and how to best approach airport-specific challenges will be identified.
Phase 3: Toolkit for Implementing a Positive Culture and Enhancing the Employee Experience. Based on the research described in Phases 1 and 2, an Airport Culture and Employee Experience Guidebook and Toolkit will be created. The Guidebook and Toolkit will include background information on the importance and benefits of creating a culture and employee experience that facilitates thriving at work and improves job satisfaction, exemplars of culture and employee experience components, tools that identify an airport's most pressing areas related to culture and employee experience, and recommendations for strategies that can be implemented to improve organizational culture and employee experience and ultimately airport outcomes such as retention, engagement, performance, satisfaction, and recruitment.
The estimated funding for this proposed effort is $300,000. The estimated time needed to complete this research is 18 months, including 3 months for review and revision of a draft final report. These estimates are based on the complexity of information to be gathered as well as the high level of detail that will be expected of the final products.
ACRP. (n.d.). Emerging Issues for ACRP: Airport Workforce Development. Retrieved on April 2, 2021 from http://www.trb.org/acrp/airportworkforcedevelopment.aspx
Airport Cooperative Research Program. (2010). Aviation Workforce Development Practices: A Synthesis of Airport Practice (Synthesis 18). http://portjobs.org/storage/documents/acrp_syn_018.pdf
Airport Cooperative Research Program. (2018). Guidebook on Building Airport Workforce Capacity (Research Report 186). https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25263/guidebook-on-building-airport-workforce-capacity
Belias, D., & Koustelios, A. (2014). Organizational culture and job satisfaction: A review. International review of management and marketing, 4, 132.
Cronin, C. B., Alexander, A. Majumdar, E., Riches, DC., Jenkins, J., Van Beek, S., Bisker, A., Heinen, B., & Lewis, C. (2016). ACRP Web-Only Document 28: Identifying and Evaluating Airport Workforce Requirements. Washington D.C.: Transportation Research Board (ACRP Project 06-04). Retrieved from http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/acrp/acrp_webdoc_028.pdf
Ostroff, C., Kinicki, A. J., & Muhammad, R. S. (2012). Organizational culture and climate. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition, 12.
Schleicher, D. J., Hansen, S. D., & Fox, K. E. (2011). Job attitudes and work values. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbooks in psychology®. APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology, Vol. 3. Maintaining, expanding, and contracting the organization (p. 137–189). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/12171-004
Solook, K., Alexander, A., Cronin, B., Batarse, J.C., Bisker, A., Marhefka, J., & Souder, J. (2020). ACRP Web-Only Document 49: Research Roadmap on Airport Administration and Human Resource Issues. Washington D.C.: Transportation Research Board (ACRP Project 11-02/Task 35). Retrieved from http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/180928.aspx