After Southwest Airlines canceled two-thirds of its reservations over the holidays, some reports say the flight disruption was the worst industry meltdown in memory. With two-thirds of its passengers left stranded, business leaders complain that the chaos at Southwest is a potent example of how out-dated tech problems hurt a business. Businesses like Southwest need to make significant changes, if they want to win against competitors in 2023, sources say.
The Problem Explained
Mike Morini, CEO at WorkForce Software, explains the problem. “The struggles that we saw at Southwest are just the latest high-profile example of business challenges that surface from weaknesses in the often-outdated underlying technology and systems being used by major corporations today,” he told me. “Despite millions of dollars in technology investments and updates, most often these investments are made in customer facing or production systems versus the back-office systems that can have these types of devastating consequences to business operations. Once these system weaknesses are exposed, it can take significant time before a modern technology solution, designed for rapid response, can be implemented—leaving customers frustrated in the short-term and leaving companies struggling to respond rapidly.”
Although first exposed when organizations discovered an inability to respond to change or communicate with employees during the global pandemic, many organizations still find themselves ill-equipped with the technology they need to avoid business disruption, according to Morini. He says that at Southwest, the mass cancellations were partly caused by outdated scheduling software and a lack of automated communication tools, adding, “In large organizations, when there is not a consistent communication mechanism, it can not only be challenging to address the business disruption but also to deliver information to employees who are required to interact with customers—customers and the employees put in these difficult situations both suffer.”
With the huge increase in job stress and workplace mental health issues, the last thing passengers and airline employees need is more unnecessary stress. “We read about Southwest employees who were unable to get through to their own managers and were doing their best to manage customer relationships on site,” Morini shared with me, acknowledging that even though this is an extreme case, it is far from the only example of disruptions that left employees without the information and tools they needed to respond to change. “Employees across industries are requesting employee experience technologies, including tools to help them communicate with HQ, connect with each other to solve problems faster, and to work more efficiently,” he points out. “With an increasingly digital-native workforce, workers struggle to reconcile how their personal experiences and ability to find information, collaborate and respond differ so considerably from their experiences at work.”
With continued labor shortages and lower barriers to job change in virtually all industries, Morini notes that the balance of power at organizations has already shifted towards the worker. “There has been a rise in employee expectations about what is important to them in an employer,” he says. “Often times, it is not that the company doesn’t have the desire to improve or provide this technology, but they have an inability to do so based on their current technology solutions.”
Some Quick Automated Solutions
Morini identifies technology solutions that offer capabilities that can be implemented rapidly to address automated employee communications; however, he recommends that companies plan for those now versus waiting for a crisis. “The challenge that organizations must address is ensuring that the communications solutions address frontline or ‘deskless’ workers, who are often the people called upon at times of business disruption and at the same time least served by company systems. Considering that less than one percent of corporate technology spending goes to systems for these workers and that even in 2023, 83% of frontline and deskless workers don’t have a corporate email address, organizations will need to prioritize investments in technology for this employee population to be prepared in the future.”
Morini underscores that when communication solutions aren’t implemented by companies, employees often turn to their own strategies to fill the void using unofficial, unsecured and vulnerable third-party applications like WhatsApp and social media. “These seemingly quick fixes have significant downsides when you consider they can be highly visible to customers, future employees, and support none of the compliance requirements that govern corporate use,” he says.
Morini cites other ways automation can help employees such as smart technologies like fatigue management systems that can monitor hours worked, tasks performed, breaks taken and time off scheduled to flag employees that may be at risk of becoming burned out. He told me that this technology can automatically send real-time notifications to help employers stay informed about potential employee wellness issues, specifically when people are working overtime.
Why Up-To-Date Tech Is So Important
“Up-to-date tech in the workplace is of critical importance to the company’s effective response and to their ability to positively impact their employees’ experience as they prepare and support them in times of change,” Morini emphasizes. “Supporting change relies heavily on communications and the ability to adapt the systems that enable operations.” The pressure on businesses is tremendous, he notes, adding that smart employers are beginning to understand the importance of listening to what their workforce really wants and the importance of investing in technology to automate and improve communication, flexibility and an ability to continuously adapt.
Many companies have systems that were designed 20-plus years ago, he points out, and often with many manual processes and work-arounds that can prevent rapid adaptation and the ability to easily enable change. He advises that, “Businesses like Southwest that are using outdated scheduling and communication methods from the 1990s must upgrade their operational systems and their workforce management tech if they want to remain competitive in 2023, and if they want to retain their staff in the process.”
The Impact Of Up-To-Date Technology
Up-to-date technology can have a direct, positive impact on employees’ experiences at work and on the company’s bottom line, Morini points out, adding that employees are demanding more of their employers today and that research repeatedly shows that workers are requesting more control and flexibility in their schedules, often listing it as more important than compensation.
Through modern technologies, employers are able to identify and deliver support for the personalized needs of their workers. He gives the example of airline employee scheduling as a complex and intricate process that must consider union rules, federal regulations and more. Technology to automate and optimize scheduling that can adapt to each organization’s needs and provide the scheduling flexibility that employees demand already exists, and he explains that it will need to be adopted to support business requirements, ensure compliance and meet employee demands.
Morini states that, “As more organizations work to tie investments in talent to business outcomes, smart employee technology can support both rapid change and positive employee experiences,” indicating that it leads to a more positive culture, increased engagement and greater productivity. Plus, it helps reduce turnover, which has a negative financial impact on companies. Technology can be a critical enabler for every company’s success, he concludes, but only if employers take the opportunity to meet employees’ needs and enable the delivery of solutions that are meaningful to the business.