As executive vice president and chief wellness officer, Shimizu Shinichiro has a critical role to play at Japan Airlines. He is tasked with moulding a conducive mental and physical environment for a priority community – the company’s employees – that will ultimately determine the airline’s performance
Your title is very interesting. What do you do at Japan Airlines (JAL)?
We have a human resource department that takes care of staff welfare. But because the JAL board has promised the company to enforce a much stronger wellness culture, my role was created to shape that culture, and promote and execute the programmes that the human resource department develops as a result of my directions.
How would you define wellness at the workplace?
As you know, our company went bankrupt in 2010 and we had to rebuild the entire group from scratch. It gave us a chance to rewrite our company policy and bring back to focus our key promise, which is employee first, followed by passengers and society.
With our employees in mind, we considered what mattered most to them. We determined that their health and well-being must be the priority. The wellness focus that JAL takes is not limited to just our employees; it is extended to their families too because their loved ones must be taken care of for them to be happy and be able to work in peace. Happy employees make happy customers, and that makes the company happy.
You raised a good point about caring for families to ensure staff can work without worries. Does this approach mean JAL has made changes to work arrangements so that your employees have a better work-life balance?
JAL has been offering a flexible work arrangement even before Covid came along, so our IT system has always been able to support and facilitate remote work.
However, it was due to Covid that more people started to evaluate work and life, and they realised the importance of spending time with their family, or by themselves away from the city. Many people saw the value of slowing down in the countryside. As a result, our flexible work arrangement became much more appreciated by our staff, as it allowed them to work in the countryside should they wish to.
Can building a wellness-centric work environment improve JAL’s hiring potential at a time when rebuilding the travel and tourism workforce is so challenging?
Of course. Employees’ mentality has changed as a result of Covid. People in general are now watching their health very closely, and they expect their employers to provide a caring work environment.
JAL is well-positioned to deal with this change, as the company has always put its people first. Furthermore, the company has a chief wellness officer paying attention to staff well-being.
JAL also assigns a wellness leader to every department who does not just take instructions from the top. This leader works with his/her colleagues to develop wellness initiatives that are agreeable with everyone. These initiatives may be hiking or group gymnastics, for example. The company may then subsidise the cost of the activity, or sponsor the prizes for participants.
Can you tell me more about these wellness initiatives? What interesting programmes have been conducted in the past two or three years?
We have a lot of flexibility in our wellness initiatives. Departments can create their own programmes. However, JAL has one or two company-wide fitness events every year to involve everyone in the company.
Last year, when Japan hosted Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, I brought some of our athletic staff together to lead 27 groups on radio callisthenics. Radio callisthenics is a traditional Japanese group exercise.
Since we could not get together for this event due to Covid, we made videos of our exercises to share with everyone. Every group around the world did their workout in different locations. The maintenance team, for instance, did their video in the hangar, with an aeroplane in the background. Our team in Paris did (the video) in their office.
At the end of the activity, we chose one team as the Master of Exercise and rewarded the group. The Paris team won.
It was an international effort that was rather interesting. The idea for this was born out of group discussions.
This year we will have the JAL Honolulu Marathon on December 11. JAL has been sponsoring this public event since 1985. We will be sending a number of wellness leaders to the marathon this year. I will be running too, as my way of supporting the event. We have invited our staff to join in as well.
JAL typically sponsors a number of marathons around Japan and in some parts of the world.
Let’s backtrack and talk a little more about JAL’s state of recruitment. How active is JAL with recruitment, and are there still many roles to fill?
We implemented a series of secondments in the summer of 2020, during the pandemic. It was with the primary intention of contributing to the community and society. The management wanted to encourage employees to give back to society at a time when flights were suspended.
At that time, we were sending more than a thousand employees – at a maximum of 1,800 – every day to other industries. Among these, some 800 flight attendants were supporting other industries every day.
Now that we are getting very busy, most of them have returned to JAL.
There is always some staff attrition every year. We did not hire replacements for those vacated roles in the last two years, but now, we are beginning to hire for the first time in three years. We’ve started accepting applications for flight attendants to join the company for the first time in four years, in fiscal 2023.
JAL is reforming its business structure for sustainable growth and development based on the three pillars of its management strategy – ESG Strategy, Business Strategy, and Financial Strategy. We are working to develop talents who, after gaining sufficient flight attendant experience, can also be active in other areas by taking advantage of their individual abilities and strengths. They will then become professionals who can provide the highest level of service and safety to our customers.