Enhancing the Employee Experience at United Airlines with Hybrid Work 10/13

The Getting Hybrid Work Right call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders on all aspects of hybrid work. On this week's call, i4cp' s CEO Kevin Oakes and Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone facilitated a conversation with special guest Kate Gebo, EVP of Human Resources and Labor Relations at United Airlines. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • Gebo noted that two key principles at United are “Every Action Counts” and “Good Leads the Way.” At United Airlines, “Every Action Counts” is the pledge made to employees (and also speaks to the complexity of their business, where if one little breaks down, everything can be halted or end up in chaos.) “Good Leads the Way” is their new advertising campaign that highlights all of the work that United does during times of national distress (e.g., COVID), local issues such as hurricane relief runs, and more.
  • Gebo noted that countless HR professionals, at United and elsewhere, have had a "career in a year," meaning they have done more and many different things in a very compressed timeframe.
  • Shortly before the COVID pandemic began, a team at United presented a proposal to Gebo and her team about the benefits of remote and hybrid work (for corporate employees), how it could work, etc. Initially she was not in favor of making the change, but having that proposal and plan available start from come March of 2020 was very helpful.
  • United's approach to employees whose jobs can be done remotely is consistent with many other organizations, as they have three groups of employees: fully remote (which are only about 2%), fully on-site, and hybrid (which are the vast majority of such employees).
  • Similar to what i4cp's research recommends, United does not have a blanket hybrid work policy, but has a flexible approach that allows decisions to be made at the team level.
  • In terms of tracking productivity in this new world of work, the focus remains high-level corporate operational metrics. Gebo said they are not doing audits of badge swipes or how often people are logging on -- HR is not driving hybrid work policy, it is being set and driven at the leader and team level, and so that is also where accountability lives.
  • At United, the strategy has been to hold employee listening forums at the local and smaller-team levels, as opposed to broad-based polling.
  • During the call, we ask the following two participant polls:
    • "As part of your employee listening strategy, how often do you seek employee input?"
      • 72% Once or twice a year
      • 10% Once a month
      • 1% Weekly
      • 17% We take an “always on” approach to employee listening
    • When surveying employees…
      • 14% We only ask Likert / multiple choice questions; we don’t have write-in comments
      • 56% We review and analyze write-in comments manually
      • 3% We get write-in comments, but we don’t do much with them
      • 27% We review and analyze write-in comments using technology
        (NLP / Artificial Intelligence)
  • United has a strong culture of Business Resource Groups (BRGs), which help with policy formation, but also on the recruiting front as they are a great vehicle for referrals. Oakes noted the i4cp research that found that ERGs/BRGs are also a great way to develop leaders through their involvement in and leadership of those groups.
  • One way United is providing greater flexibility is by offering additional unpaid time off for employees who want it. This has been a welcome new offering for many flight attendants and some other roles.
  • United as a BRGs for Millennials, and they were importing in coming up with the organization's hybrid and related work policies. They created a guidebook for managers that focused on things like managing by objectives not hours worked, and various specific guidelines around hybrid work scheduling, etc.
  • United also has a Working Parents BRG that has also been influential on hybrid work policy setting at the company.
  • United's corporate offices have been shifted to encourage more open collaboration work, e.g., less old-style conference rooms and more open spaces to gather in a comfortable, informal setting.
  • Total Rewards at United is increasingly focused on the holistic well-being of employees, not just the traditional aspects of physical and mental health through medical, dental, and other common benefits. Aligned with recent i4cp research, more attention is being paid to financial well-being. There is also more emphasis on community connectedness via United-supported volunteer work, which also helps drive team-building elements.
  • Stone noted a possible future trend being organizations changing their focus around physical health to consider the connections with burnout. Often the focus regarding burnout is on the mental/emotional side, but burnout often involves physical and hormonal changes in the brain, can involve adrenal fatigue, etc., which can then lead to a vicious cycle of worse mental impacts, etc.
  • Gebo closed by noting the very intentional and purposeful approach they are taking to their hybrid work policies.

Links to resources shared on the call: