Learn company creed or else, airlines warn staff

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 June, 2009, 12:00am

Pilots and flight attendants with Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express have been ordered to memorise a lengthy creed about company values and threatened with punishment if they are unable to recite it in full.

The 10-line creed - described in a memo to staff as an 'apophthegm', meaning a short, pithy and instructive saying - was circulated in English and Chinese a fortnight ago with a warning that random spot checks would be conducted by managers this month to make sure everyone had learned it.

Although apophthegms are by definition brief, the 68-word one circulated to all staff at the sister airlines is three words longer than the Christian Church's Lord's Prayer, and contains some even denser and more archaic phraseology.

Among its tougher-to-memorise lines are 'Perseverance is the rule to sturdy progress', 'Diligence leads research to accession of knowledge', 'Careful recipe is the best medicine to health' and 'Kindliness to youth endows the superior with virtue'.

In an accompanying memo sent to all staff, employees were told to 'study the following apophthegm thoroughly and apply it in daily life'.

'All staff should keep firmly in mind the apophthegm,' it says.

'Human resources department will follow up with the colleagues regarding on the practice of apophthegm after two to three weeks and management will conduct the random spot check after a month ... please note that punishment will be given to those who could not recite the apophthegm.'

The apophthegm is understood to have been borrowed from one used at Hainan Airlines, the mainland airline whose parent company is a majority shareholder in Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express.

A pilot with one of the two airlines, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: 'Everyone is astounded by this instruction. It isn't as if we haven't got more important things to worry about.

'Flight attendants have been going around with the apophthegm written out on cards since the memo went out, trying their best to learn it whenever they get a free minute. I've seen them studying it on the buses on their way to work.

'They are very worried because no one has said what the punishment will be for not memorising it. Cabin crew are worried that it might be used as a way to get rid of staff [who] management don't want to keep on.'

A flight attendant, who also asked not to be named, said: 'It is very insulting. It's like being back in primary school. Do they think that threatening us with punishment is really the way to get the best out of employees?'

Asked about the apophthegm, Shirley Kwok, product manager for Hong Kong Express, declined to say who wrote it or what the intention was behind ordering staff to memorise it. 'We are not able to comment on internal company policy,' she said. She declined to say what punishment would be given to employees who failed to memorise the apophthegm, saying the memo was intended only for 'internal colleagues'.

John Findlay, general secretary of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, said: 'When I first heard about this I thought it was a joke. When I discovered it was true I was incredulous.

'I have never heard of any reputable airline ordering staff to recite corporate culture words at the risk of being punished if not able to do so.'