How to lift company morale? Revive the spirit of shafu

Guest Writer

Airline bosses in Europe must have been tearing their hair out this week, as the continent’s aviation industry was crippled by industrial action. Lufthansa pilots went on strike, French air traffic controllers downed tools, and British Airways’ cabin crew voted overwhelmingly to hold a walk out. Honestly, you spend long hours and vast sums of cash training staff, offering them pension plans, health care, and countless other benefits, and what do they do? They walk out on you just because you have the temerity to try to cut costs during a global financial crisis. There’s just no pleasing some people.

But it does make you wonder; why are these problems seemingly consigned to the West? Asian carriers have also suffered from the effects of the global economic crisis, especially at Japan Airlines (JAL), where as many as a third of the company’s entire workforce is set to lose their jobs. But there hasn’t been any significant report of mutiny at JAL. Why is that? Japanese workers have union representation, just like those in the West, but they seem a lot less troublesome. Perhaps it is the concept of ‘shafu’, or company spirit. While company employees in Europe tend to be in it for the money, or personal advancement, Japanese workers appear forge an altogether stronger bond with their employers. The most famous example of shafu was the company song - sung by employees to rouse company spirit at the beginning of each working day. While this tradition has now faded, the spirit of shifu appears to be alive and well, embodied by a collective will to do whatever is best for the future of the company - even if it means sacrificing your own job.

Perhaps European companies could learn a little from their Japanese counterparts; maybe introducing a rousing anthem at the start of each day would serve to boost morale and strengthen employer-employee relations. Well, perhaps. But let’s face it; shafu just wouldn’t work in Europe. Any attempt to strike up a chorus of the company song would anything from smirks and muffled laughs to outright distain. The belief in a company as a family unit just doesn’t seem to exist in Europe. This may be a good thing; personal ambition creates competitiveness, which in turn boosts output and creates a more skilled society. However, to a certain degree, it sacrifices loyalty. Given the problems of last week, airlines in Europe must be wishing there was a little more shafu in the world.

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