Aviation Workers Feel the Heat due to Layoffs, Job Insecurity

Aviation Workers Feel Heat due to Layoffs, Job Insecurity

September 8, 2020

Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) tries to buffer the impact of employee anxiety with a partnership with digital therapeutics company Naluri to offer psychological and well-being support.

MAG, which consists of national carrier Malaysia Airlines, Firefly, MASwings, MABkargo, MAB Academy et al, has partnered with Naluri to offer all 13,000 aviation employees therapeutic care that combines behaviour science, data science, and digital design.

The therapeutics program claims to implement a multi-disciplinary and structured approach to health coaching and psychological support with quantifiable health outcomes.

The demand for air travel continues to be severely impacted by COVID-19. The International Air Transport Association released an updated global passenger forecast showing that Global passenger traffic (revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024. The report highlighted that Asia-Pacific airlines’ June traffic plummeted 97.1% compared to the year-ago period, little improved from the 98.1% decline in May. Capacity fell 93.4% and load factor shrank 45.8 percentage points to 35.6%.

Due to the 80-94% flight capacity cuts between April to August 2020, which have caused a major loss in passenger revenue, MAG says its had to take hard measures to aggressively defend their cash position including capacity and resource management by deferring non-critical spend and implementing cost-cutting initiatives across the businesses.

Earlier this year, MAG offered its employees the option of taking three months of unpaid leave or five days of unpaid leave per month for a period of three months beginning in April 2020. These measures were undertaken to prevent the possibility of employee layoffs to cut costs.

Commenting on this initiative, MAG Chief Executive Officer Captain Izham Ismail says MAG launched its own Employee Assistance Program in March 2020 to provide employees in Malaysia and at international stations with continuous communications and engagement to help them cope with the challenges of being in lockdown and working from home.

“This includes access to financial counselling and financial literacy courses besides constant tips to adapt to the new norm, providing aviation employees with the much-needed support to ensure their well-being. We further enhanced the EAP with the MHeart – Healthy Mind, Healthy Body psychological well-being digital platform in July 2020. With this partnership, we can draw upon Naluri’s digital platform and technologies to provide them with proactive support rather than reactive. We understand the importance of mental well-being and believe that early screening is important so intervention can be timely, and Naluri can help us do exactly that,” says Captain Ismail.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, it was estimated that mental health issues among employees were to cost the country roughly RM14.46 billion or 1% of Malaysia’s GDP. This figure is expected to be higher now given the psychological toll of the pandemic and its associated measures. During this unprecedented time of uncertainty and fear, it is likely that existing mental health issues will be exacerbated. In addition, epidemics have shown to induce general stress, anxiety, and depression.

However, according to Naluri CEO Azran Osman Rani, the stigma around mental health is still prevalent in Malaysia. Rani claims that for the few companies that do offer mental health services as part of an employee assistance program, solutions tend to be costly and unsustainable with significantly low rates of employees reaching for help. There needs to be a greater clarion call for employers to better address mental health issues in the workplace, especially during a precarious time as now.

“Malaysia Airlines is the national carrier and the pride of the nation, and we are happy to support them during this trying time. We are proud of them for setting this example for employers in the tourism, aviation and hospitality industries— sectors that have been the worst affected by this pandemic. Mental health is key to a company’s and a country’s overall growth and Naluri has the resources, tools, and expertise to help. Our internal data and multiple studies by the Ministry of Health show that 30–50% of working adults experience mental health pressures. While traditional EAP models are there to help, unfortunately, with these programs only 2%-4% of the employees are reaching out for help. Clearly, we need a more comprehensive health solution to support aviation workers, especially during these challenging times,” says Rani.

According to Rani, its integrated and holistic health approach is led by a behavioural psychologist as a health coach.

“We can deliver quantifiable improvements in employee health that are clinically-significant. This approach not only provides the much-needed support to employees but also brings value to the business in the long run in the form of improved productivity,” says Rani.

Rani further claims that Naluri disrupts EAP with early screening. A typical distribution of employees would see 40% having depression, 60% experiencing anxiety, and 30% dealing with stress. Currently, Naluri says its has 50 experts on their platform, and their expertise range from psychologists to fitness coaches to dietitians. Apart from MAG, Naluri claims it is also implementing digital therapeutics solutions for other notable companies such as Petronas, AHA Insurance, Pfizer, and RHB Bank.

(Ed. Featured image by Photographer Benjamin Suter.)

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