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Archive for Thursday, August 24, 2006

A case study on how to rattle employees

August 24, 2006

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The financially struggling Northwest Airlines recently made a blunder that could easily be viewed as a sequel to "Snakes on a Plane."

The Eagan, Minn.-based company, in the midst of bankruptcy reorganization, did something that was as biting to some of its employees as the plane full of poisonous snakes in the recently released movie.

To help prepare employees for possible job losses or transitions, Northwest sent out a 165-page handbook titled "Ground Operations Restructuring Q&A and Employee Support."

The guide included information on several topics including pension and retirement benefits, relocation and resume assistance, said Roman Blahoski, media relations manager for Northwest.

What happened next should forever be included in a management case study in every MBA program in the country.

Northwest rattled some employees because of one section in the handbook: "Coping with Job Loss," which included a list of "101 Ways to Save Money." Among the tips:

¢ Buy spare parts for your car at the junkyard.

¢ Get hand-me-down clothes and toys for your kids from family and friends.

¢ Take a shorter shower.

¢ Buy old furniture at yard sales and refinish it yourself.

¢ Volunteer two hours a month through a food-sharing program to get reduced-cost food.

¢ Hang clothes out to dry.

¢ Borrow a dress for a big night out, or go to a consignment shop.

¢ Don't be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.

¢ Ask your doctor for samples of prescriptions.

It's not that any of these tips are unreasonable - except for the one recommending dumpster diving. It's the gall of a company under bankruptcy protection telling its employees how to better handle their money - and in a frivolous, humiliating manner.

Once employees objected to the advice, airline officials quickly apologized.

Northwest CEO Doug Steenland said that the episode reminded the company that it needs to "check, double-check and triple-check everything."

No kidding.

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