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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Research proposal: Etihad Airways

Etihad Airways is the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates and among the largest airlines in the world. The company was set up by the Royal decree in July 2003 and started operations in November of the same year. The company subsequently grew to be among the largest carriers in the world with a workforce of about 8,000 employees who reflect not less than 120 nationalities. Etihad is located in the capital of United Arab Emirates- Abu Dhabi. Etihad grew steadily to reach a customer base of 6.3 million passengers in 2009 with their revenues exceeding $ 2.3 billion in the same year. The main service offered by Etihad is provision of commercial flight services. However, the airline also offers Etihad holidays, crystal cargo, and it also offers a global contact centre. These services are further enhanced by the provision of ground services such as chauffeur services and provision of premium lounges. In every organization, the question of employee motivation comes to the fore from time to time. This is in recognition of the crucial role that employs play in the realization of organizational strategies outlined. With a human resource base of 8,000 employees, it is expected that Etihad Airways should be paying a substantial level of attention to the productivity of their employees and subsequently their level of motivation. This study seeks to identify the measures taken by Etihad airways in ensuring their employees are motivated as well as the impact of the measures taken.

Research title
The title for the research shall read as follows: how effective are the motivational factors practiced at Etihad Airways in enhancing employee satisfaction and productivity?

Aims and Objectives
The study will mainly evaluate human resource practices at Etihad with the aim of identifying factors that are likely to motivate or de-motivate the employees. In so doing, the study shall expound on the philosophies adopted by Etihad in respect to their human resource management and the extent to which HR is factored in designing of the airline’s generic strategies. The study shall also establish the levels of motivation exhibited by the employees and shall seek to establish a relationship between the motivation levels and the motivation factors adopted by the airline. The study shall also establish the relative ranking of Etihad airlines in the industry and the whole economy. The research shall therefore seek to answer the following questions:
·         What is the prevailing Human Resource Management philosophy and dominant motivational theory at Etihad airlines?
·         How has this philosophy translated into provision of motivating factors to the employees?
·         What is the level of satisfaction exhibited by the airline’s employees?
·         How can Etihad be ranked in the industry and in the economy in relation to the motivation levels of its employees?
·         What motivating factors are being provided at Etihad?
·         What is the relative importance of these factors to the employees?
·         What objections/ if any do the employees have about the human resource practices?
·         What theoretical weaknesses can the study reveal about the human resource practices?
·         How can these weaknesses be corrected to ensure higher levels of employee motivation?
The research shall seek to prove the correctness of the hypothesis that: motivational programs adopted at Etihad Airways have been very successful in enhancing employee motivation levels.

Rationale of the study
The importance of employee motivation in organizations has generated its fair share of debate with an overwhelming majority holding the view that staff motivation leads to better organization performance. The study is designed to highlight current practices at Etihad since the bulk of reliable studies conducted at the same organization are at least three years old. The business environment and the socio-cultural changes taking place in the face of rapid globalization have rendered the business environment so dynamic that information is rapidly being rendered unreliable if not updated in a timely manner. This study shall seek to draw fresh findings based on current goings on in the airline. This research is expected to make valuable input into the wealth of academic research conducted on employee motivation and may serve as an important guide for researchers seeking to conduct such studies in other organizations or industries. The study shall also be conducted solemnly in order to generate reliable interpretations and recommendations that Etihad and other industry players can draw from when designing or updating the Human resource management practices.

Definition of terms
UAE – United Arab Emirates
The airline – Etihad Airlines

Limitations of the study
The study will not be able to gather views from a large majority of the workers due to time constraints. This study recognizes that even though due care shall be taken to ensure the employees surveyed are representative of the whole group the issues of motivation are usually so personal that it is inaccurate to assume any commonness. However, it is expected that the findings would broadly be reflective of the whole staff. Secondly, the research shall be conducted by an independent party who is not known to the staff. The lack of familiarity with the research may lead to reluctance to release information on the innermost feelings of the employees hence there is danger of the study leading to misleading conclusions. This shall be corrected by making an effort to ascertain the willingness of the employees to be sampled to take part in the survey. This solution will equally be applicable in overcoming the time constraints associated with filling out a detailed survey questionnaire.     

Literature Review
The research topic touches on the importance of the various factors at work environments that contribute to employee motivation and their subsequent impact on employee productivity. Motivation may be broadly described as the inner force that drives employees to desire to achieve personal and organizational goals. The dominant theories relating to employee motivation were formed rather recently and were as a result of the analytical and descriptive skills of some of the management gurus such as Dr. Abraham Maslow in 1943, Fredrick Herzberg in 1959, Prof. Victor H. Room in 1960, John Stacey Adams in 1963, and Burrhus Fredric Skinner. These five distinguished theorists were instrumental in the development of several theories relating to employee motivation. These theories have mostly been named after the theorists as follows: Adam’s Equity theory, Maslow’s Need-Hierarchy theory, Vroom’s Expectancy theory, Herzberg’s two-factor theory, and Skinner’s reinforcement theory.  Maslow held the view that the greatest motivator for human needs is unsatisfied needs and that these needs would need to be satisfied in such a way that recognizes the hierarchy that he designed. Lower needs would have to be satisfied before the higher needs for any motivation programs to have their desired effect. He identified these needs as physiological needs (water, air, food, and sleep), safety needs (financial reserves, job security, safety of residence and medical security/ insurance), social needs (friendship, giving and receiving love, and belonging to a group), esteem needs (attention, recognition, self-respect, social status, and accomplishment), and self-actualization (meaning, wisdom, justice, and truth) respectively.

The Maslow’s need- hierarchy theory states that the needs of the employees shift to the next level upon satisfaction with one level of needs and their desire to satisfy their needs progress until they reach the level of self-actualization.  However, the self-actualization needs do net get fully satisfied unlike the other levels of needs. This is because people graduate into new psychological realms from time to time and requiring an adjustment of the actualization needs. Experts argue that the knowledge of the employee’s needs help the management to significantly raise their motivation levels more effectively and efficiently. The emergence of subsequent theories was as a result of the weaknesses observed in the need-hierarchy theory. These weaknesses stemmed from the inadequacy of the theory to cover cultural backgrounds where some cultures would tend to put social needs above other needs and the fact that there was little evidence to prove the need to satisfy one level of needs before attempting to satisfy the others. The Herzberg’s two factor theory can also be called the motivator-hygiene theory. It concentrates on identifying the motivating factors and the hygiene factors where the two terms refer to factors that enhance satisfaction and factors that prevent dissatisfaction respectively.

The two-factor theory identifies some of the hygiene factors as reasonable wages; offering of fringe benefits such as medical insurance; job security; flexible and reasonable administrative and company policies; safe, clean and hygienic working conditions; and recognition and retention of status within the organization. The motivating factors have been identified as recognition of employees’ achievements; responsibility and ownership of work; meaningfulness of work; and a sense of achievement promoted by the organization. Job-enrichment is the thrust of this theory. Advocates for this theory advise that an organization should ensure the promotion of motivating factors to heighten motivation levels while keeping an eye of the hygiene factors to guard against erosion of any gains that may have been achieved as a result of good application of the motivating factors. Vroom’s expectancy theory states that the level of motivation a person has is dependent on their perception of how an action would lead to the attainment of a given result and their desire to realize the identified result. This theory factors in an equation which makes it easier to derive comparative analysis that would enable a management team to provide motivational factors more decisively. This theory adopts the formula: motivation = Valence x Expectancy x instrumentality, where valence refers to the level of desire for a perceived reward; expectancy refers to the probability that the action to be taken may lead to the identified reward; and instrumentality refers to the level to which an employee believes that attaining the identified task could lead to the identified reward.

This theory has received praise from many scholars as a breakthrough in identification and recognition of individual differences within the same staff clusters in an organization. This theory also tends to provide the link between the organizational goals and individual employees’ goals hence offering a platform for the harmonization of the two variables. The theory further gives the management teams to recognize the level of importance that the employees attach to the various components of their work reward systems enabling the organization to lay emphasis on the most critical areas to ensure higher productivity. Adams Equity theory advocates for a balance between the input an employee puts into an organization and the output (reward) that they get from the organization. The inputs include factors such as skills, loyalty, tolerance, determination, personal sacrifice, trust in superiors, adaptability, commitment and hard work while outputs include salaries, financial benefits, job security, growth opportunities, praise, recognition, responsibility and sense of achievement. The equity between the inputs and outputs for employees motivates the employees to work more diligently as it also raises their expectation that further inputs are likely to lead to higher levels of outputs. Skinner’s reinforcement theory states that humans’ actions are a function of the perceived consequences of such actions. This theory concentrates on creating understanding on how to ensure effective control over people’s behavior and completely ignores their internal states of mind.

This theory identifies positive reinforcement tools as the granting positive responses to an employee’s desirable behavior and negative reinforcement as giving negative responses in reaction to an employee’s undesirable behavior. This theory also advocates for punishment to discourage repetition of undesirable behaviors and possible lack of response for employees that are yet to learn their lessons. Proper understanding and application of this theory ensures that the employees learn desirable behaviors leading to higher motivation levels in the long-run. These motivation theories are critical in examining the level of employee motivation in any organization as they enable researchers to identify the critical areas for examination when carrying out the analyses.  A 2008 Study on the UAE national carrier- Etihad airways was able to reveal some of the expectations that the employees had on their organization, citing promotion and career development with an impressive 68% of the employees interviewed stating that they were impressed with their employer and were highly motivated. This had also coincided with the introduction of online training programs that had significantly ignited employee satisfaction due to the realization of their knowledge needs. However, a 32% disapproval rating among their employees indicated that there was a substantial unexploited potential that could be attained by moving the one third of the employees into a highly motivated and satisfied category. A survey of several organizations in 2010 revealed that most of the organizations surveyed continued to exhibit various symptoms that led to employee dissatisfaction in their companies (Abu Dhabi University, 2010).

These factors included a perceived lack of career growth and personal development; inadequate teamwork and collaboration or its lack thereof, inadequate performance culture, negative manager behavior, unfavorable working conditions such as unfriendly and rigid shifts, unrealistic promotion expectations, and inadequate coaching and mentoring culture. Some of the suggestions made to counter these inadequacies were as follows: placing emphasis on employees’ career development, realigning organizational practices to cultural structures considered crucial by the employees, creating clear performance indicators and management of expectations, offering mentoring and coaching support, increasing employee autonomy in execution of their duties, and encouraging open and candid communication between employees and between them and their bosses. These recommendations seem to be inconsonance with the recommendations of Samuel (2001) in his article in the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association when he emphasized the importance of proper staff training, conducive and safe working environments, clarity of objectives and management of staff expectations, fair management practices, and the recognition of employees’ contributions and efforts. Griffin and Moorhead (2009) concur that fairness and adequate reward systems are crucial in ensuring employee retention and enhanced motivation in organizations. Studies have also provided ample evidence that link employee motivation with productivity levels in any organizations.

Strategy scholars are of the view that in the increasingly competitive business environment, the idea of using human resources are a source of competitive advantage is fast becoming the most convenient card that organizations are likely to use for survival and market dominance. Employee motivation is especially critical in service-oriented organizations such as Etihad airways. Surveys have revealed that satisfied employees are ten times more likely to generate high levels of customer satisfaction than unmotivated employees. Staff motivation is therefore at the heart of any growth or survival strategies that organizations may come up with. This calls for the according of enhanced importance to the human resource management functions of the organizations which have in many cases been left out of strategy planning in many organizations. The inclusion of Human resource functions in strategic planning brings in the useful insight on how the employees can be motivated in realizing the organization goals. The fitting the motivation factors and human resource practices into the overall organizational strategies is also very critical. The motivating factors need to bear some level of synergy and sequence centered on the organizational generic strategies in order to achieve the desired results. The theories reviewed above are expected o help with analysis and criticism of the motivational factors being implemented at Etihad airways as well as making recommendations on how the motivational programs at the company can be improved.

The research shall be conducted using both primary and secondary methods. The secondary data sources will be useful in providing the theoretical background and analysis intelligence needed while the primary data will form the bulk of the study by providing insight into the subject matter at hand. The secondary data shall mainly be obtained from academic sources such books, journals. Data on employment statistics relating to motivation shall be obtained from industry publications relating to the same topic. Secondary data presents the challenge of incompatibility where the information provided does not fit into the research objectives as outlined. This can however be solved by using deductions necessary to convert data into formats and figures that fit into the research objectives. The primary data shall be collected using surveys or written questionnaires. The written questionnaires give the respondents ample time to respond to the issues after carefully considering their answers since the nature of the research requires substantial internal reflection. However, the written surveys allow little room for clarifications hence opening room for misconceptions and wrong conclusions. However, this weakness can be corrected by ensuring the survey questions are clearly phrased and easy to understand.

Population and Sample
The target population is the 8,000 employees of the airline. This research shall endeavor to conduct a survey on 200 employees. The choice is informed by the view that a sample size of 200 is large enough to give a reliable reflection of the general trend while at the same time manageable due to the fact that the data collection process shall not involve extensive use of the researcher’s time. The sampling shall be judgmental where the various job categories shall be allocated numbers commensurate with their relative numbers in the organization. This is in recognition of the fact that different employees need different motivating factors depending on their level in the organization. The survey shall therefore interview 120 lower level staff, 60 supervisory staff, and 20 middle level managers.

The research shall employ strategies that would be geared at ensuring data reliability by securing maximum cooperation with the respondents. The researcher shall establish an inside link preferably at the management level to inspire the rest of the respondents to answer candidly and in a timely manner. The employees to be sampled shall also be contacted before the administering of the surveys in order to secure their cooperation before hand. This will ensure they take the survey seriously and attend to it in a timely manner. The surveys shall be sent to the respondents through email and they will in turn respond and send the answers on email. This will sufficiently save on time and cost of movement.

Data Analysis
Analysis shall be a combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Use of spreadsheets shall be used to derive the percentages in relation to the satisfaction levels as well as the proportions of employees that hold certain views. These shall be reflected on pie charts and graphs to enhance clarity. Quantitative analysis shall take into account the views of the respondents in order to present them in academically- acknowledged formats.

Research ethics
The question of non disclosure of sensitive information is central to any research. Most respondents would mind having their criticism of their employers publicized in a manner that can be traced to them. The research shall ensure anonymity is respected. The right of respondents to abstain from various questions of the survey must also be respected. The researcher shall not coerce or attempt to pressure the respondents in any way where the latter have been observed to be reluctant in that sense.
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The activities involved in this research shall be as outlined in the table below:    

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