Royal Dutch Airlines: We all love the 'blue family'

When you hear the word redundant, happy faces aren't the first thing to come to mind; rather, it's the people who are being penalized because of the crisis. KLM is trying to show its staff the positive side of redundancy. ‎Executive Vice President HR & Industrial Relations Aart Slagt says, "Here, people who are made redundant are given priority and they are supported in every way possible in finding a suitable new position within the company."

"This sometimes leads to memorable career moves. For instance one person who was initially employed in aircraft maintenance is now one of our communications consultants."

In 2009 the management decided to ask around in departments where there was overcapacity to see if there was anyone who wanted to be transferred to another department which was understaffed. Slagt continues, "We don't force anyone; we just ask them to put their hand up voluntarily and then offer them support in the form of training courses. Fortunately there is a strong willingness to change among our employees and there are also enough opportunities within this large company." This sometimes leads to memorable career moves. For instance one person who was initially employed in aircraft maintenance is now one of our communications consultants. According to Slagt, this method has so far been extremely successful. "If people put themselves forward then, of course, they are first interviewed; sometimes they are given an on-the-job experience and then a trial appointment with an interim assessment. Our success rate is above 80%."

The only downside is the frustration among those employees who would like to do something else but see a redundant colleague being put before them. For those people we have a job-swapping project which links employees who are ready to try something else. This enables KLM to meet their wishes too. Slagt thinks that the great thing about this creative way of retaining staff is that there are no strict rules. "There isn't a spreadsheet that managers can refer to; it comes down to the interview with your people and what they want." Of course, the employee must have the right education and the necessary skills.

"It all boils down to the fact that together we all love the 'blue family'", says Slagt. "Maybe it sounds silly, but the worst thing that can happen to anyone here is that they have to leave the KLM family. You always hear employees talking about how proud they are to work here. They are only too happy to show their KLM pass. After all, it is always awe-inspiring when you see your own product take off, isn't it?" Employees stay at KLM for a long time, so their average age is quite high. Slagt continues, "I don't necessarily see that as a problem. You can still be productive and creative when you get older. The challenge will be in the future. We are hardly attracting any new people from outside KLM, so how are you meant to deal with this lack of new blood?"

"Staff are only too happy to show their KLM pass. After all, it is always awe-inspiring when you see your own product take off, isn't it?"

If they have to look elsewhere, Slagt is not worried. "Quite honestly, in that respect, we are relatively spoilt." Apart from the occasional complicated IT job, vacancies get filled in no time. For cabin crew, Slagt only has to start a rumour and the next day he receives hundreds of applications; all from people ready to join the blue family.