It’s unarguable that Ryanair has a rather unique strategy in the airline industry, which seems to work out quite well most of the time for CEO Michael O’Leary. However, over the last months it has been in the news that due to employee dissatisfaction, the airline has been facing major strikes. As a result, customers are losing their trust in the airline and are hesitant towards booking a flight at the low-cost carrier. What happened here?
First of all, let’s discuss Ryanair’s PR strategy. It’s safe to say that the airline profiled itself as quite controversial, yet it changed the airline industry completely. As mentioned by O’Leary: “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. Love it or hate it, but one thing is certain: Ryanair is still one of the most successful airlines in Europe. O’Leary takes on a rather aggressive strategy, creating as much noise as possible by saying and doing controversial things. The airline is known for its “nastiness” and an outsider might suggest that this reputation is a recipe for disaster. However, Ryanair’s marketing chief mentions that being successful is not about customers loving your firm, it’s rather about standing out. For example, he explains that Ryanair does not spend money on Google, yet they are one of the most searched airlines. Everyone knows that they stand for, it’s all organic traffic. All in all, it could be argued that since short-haul flights are purely functional, people are not looking to be pampered. For most Ryanair-customers, it’s rather about getting a cheap flight and a convenient flight schedule. This is what the airline offers, and not more than that.
The above-explained strategy seemed to be working out fine, but recent news articles state that the airline has been facing major strikes. While O’Leary shoots ignorant comments like “We are not Easyjet, we will not surrender every time we are confronted with a strike”, pilots and cabin crew remain dissatisfied. Consequently, hundreds of customers are victimized by cancelled flights and confidence in the airline has dropped below zero. As a result, costs for compensating victimized customers are high and on top of that, profits are declining. Though the comment by O’Leary could be blamed on Ryanair’s “no-nonsense” strategy, his reaction seems questionable.
When looking at the ethical theories of famous philosopher Immanuel Kant, it quickly becomes apparent that O’Leary’s behaviour in general is not ethical at all. Kant suggests to treat others how you would like to be treated and behave as if the way you act will become a universal law. Linking this to O’Leary’s point of view, this would mean that it’s universally acceptable to as a CEO, neglect the wishes of employees and customers. In the business world, the previously mentioned statement can easily be considered as morally unacceptable. O’Leary does not seem to get it… The CEO of Ryanair puts the interest of the company first and fails to acknowledge the interest of employees and customers, resulting in strikes and customers churning.
O’Leary needs to find a way to value customers and convince them that it’s a safe, reliable choice to choose Ryanair as their carrier. Moreover, for an organization, employee satisfaction is a huge part of the key to success (Forbes, 2018). Therefore, O’Leary needs to understand that a satisfied, motivated employee is more likely to make a valuable contribution to the organization.
For me it’s clear: more satisfied employees lead to fewer strikes, which in turn leads to happier customers. Of course it is not that simple, but profits are declining and it seems as if it’s time for O’Leary to reconsider his strategy. A word of advice for the future: O’Leary should learn to revise his statements and actions and show that he knows what is the right thing to do. In other words: drop the attitude ;-).