This presentation is the first of three that are designed to help you through the coming weeks and months, as we try to adapt to a new way of doing our job.
We have reviewed and researched the threats associated with return to work following extended absence. We also talked to a number of pilots with a range of experience levels. What we found was anxiety and worry on a number of levels which is a concern for the aviation community. We as pilots are expected to be competent, professional and focussed on our primary role of safe and efficient operation. The circumstances we find ourselves in today are unprecedented and we must rise to the challenge.
We can’t give you all the answers. We can, however, show you that your worries and concerns are widely shared with your peers, even if you may not have discussed them. We can explain why you might be feeling the way you are right now. We can also offer some techniques to help you structure your revision and learning to get the best out of your time.
It may be that you are feeling fine and looking forward to the challenge ahead. If so that’s great, perhaps you can help someone who isn’t feeling as strong. Maybe you are not concerned with work, but family life has become a challenge, a spouse who is furloughed and showing the strain. Young children requiring attention and home school, or older kids worried about their futures. Perhaps your credit card and mortgage debt are keeping you awake at night. Possibly, your company has reduced your pay and threatened job cuts. Maybe you know your company is using simulator assessments as redundancy criteria and your recurrent check is coming up.
Pilots are, by nature and training, fairly resilient. That said, it would be a mistake to assume we are also bullet proof. Take the time to read this presentation and, importantly, reflect honestly on your own thoughts and feelings.
In this presentation, we will look at the various hidden threats as we return from time off. First, skill fade. We all know it exists, but how can we manage it and ourselves effectively to ensure that skill fade doesn't reduce safety margins.
Second up is self confidence. Essential, you will probably agree, but there are hidden threats to making assumptions about our ability or when we allow self doubt and negative thoughts to affect us.
We then move on to distraction. A personal experience is followed by some practical suggestions to manage this insidious threat.
Finally, a quick look at motivation. This is a huge topic that we will cover more fully in future courses. Here we provide some food for thought about how your motivation can be constructive in your approach to return to work.
It is also true to say that experience is no protection from the effects of skill fade. Whereas motor skills will tend to be better ingrained in more experienced pilots, cognitive skills (decision making, situational awareness) will degrade for everyone. Initial rate of skill fade tends to be quick at first, then the curve flattens out with time towards a maintenance level, below which there is no further significant deterioration. It is therefore reasonable to suggest that the greatest risk lies in the early months as skill fade may not be recognised within this time frame.
Skill fade has been shown to occur for a number of reasons in other industries. A recent report on emergency egress drills from oil rigs concluded that such things as the quality of the original skill acquisition, the complexity of the skill, how continuity training is carried out (ie testing versus relearning/refreshing), and the type of skill (motor versus cognitive), sat next to the more conventional reasons such as the time interval between training.
Elite sports performers generally show high levels of self-confidence which feeds their ability to perform under pressure. They also effectively use their arousal level (the feeling before competing, adrenaline, butterflies etc) to feed their confidence level.
Underlying confidence in your ability to complete the task is fundamental and underpins lots of other psychological factors. Confidence in your expertise, confidence in your knowledge, confidence in your mental fitness are all vital elements to a successful return to work.
This state of mind should not, however, be confused with over confidence. Over confidence leads you to assume skills and performance outside your expertise and can be very dangerous in an aviation context. A clear idea of your personal limitations, and consistent critical self-checking of your own performance will help.
Confidence also does not assume that you will never have negative thoughts and feelings. The difference comes with your core belief in your ability. For example, you may worry about the weather at your destination, the implications of a marginal approach, and what may be necessary if you cannot land – negative thoughts might arise. But you can still be confident about your skills and expertise in order to effect a safe landing or to divert should the need arise and raise your game to suit the situation.
One of the most effective strategies to enhance self confidence in sports performers is the setting of goals. Goals should be measurable and realistic. Luckily in aviation, both those criteria are easy to identify. You can read more about goals in our presentation, ‘Successful Personal Development’.
Another evident parallel with sports performers is that self-confidence is enhanced by those who train hard. In an aviation context, pilots who train hard are the pilots with good procedural knowledge. They will have a good attitude towards self-directed as well as company-directed learning. They are aware of their limitations and work hard to develop their skill and knowledge.
I know from personal experience that distraction is an insidious and destructive force on the flight deck. My personal distraction lesson was learnt during the consultation phase of a Thomas Cook base closure and redundancy programme. A badly timed conversation during the taxi resulted in a failure to complete the checks properly – the take-off was performed with the wrong flap setting.
Another recent example involved a British carrier A321 flight from Glasgow to London Heathrow where the crew set an incorrect flex temperature which reduced the acceptable take-off performance margin. The root cause was considered to be distraction.
No SOP, check list or procedure will effectively guard against distraction if you allow the condition to develop where these errors can happen. If you are distracted, you will inevitably omit something which will later revisit you. Chances are it won’t be catastrophic, but it will certainly reduce the safety margin.
The only answer is to really concentrate and to focus on personal discipline, effective leadership/teamwork (one of our competencies), and an insistence on the same from the crew. Call out the threat at the briefing stage and avoid or trap it by demonstrating effective flight deck management. Here’s an example; vary the format according to your company’s procedure:
Threats Brief: “Distraction is a threat today. Today we all received an email saying that the company is to make half the work force redundant and my pay is going down by 50%. I’m going to struggle financially (verbalise what the threat is and why it’s relevant). Errors might include incomplete/missing checks, briefings or procedures. What can you think of to mitigate this? …… Thank you (be interactive). As well as your great suggestion (show you value your crew input) I think we can manage this by strict adherence to the sterile flight deck rule. Please use active monitoring (Not sure what this is? Monitoring Matters UK CAA Paper 2013/02) to check my performance (Mitigating actions/management of the threat). Please call me out if I miss something (Give the crew permission to challenge you). Let’s set aside some time to talk about it during the turn-around (plan a time to discuss the problem so it isn’t left hanging).
What was it that made you want to become an airline pilot in the first place? For some of us it was a long time ago and our initial motivations are lost in time. For others the thoughts might be a little more recent. For all of us, attractive pensions and flexible contracts were probably not the main drivers.
For many of us, our motivations were aspirational, and we probably haven't revisited them for awhile. But now more than at any time, perhaps it's time to re-examine what we do and why we do it. As we face a struggle to maintain our quality of life - or even our careers- the reasons why we fly and the rewards we get from the experience should in part determine how we move forward.
We need to look at our motivation because it drives us to struggle, to succeed, to get up when we are knocked down. It has a huge effect on our sense of wellbeing. So we should have some understanding of what form motivation takes and whether we are doing all we can to develop our motivation in a healthy and constructive way.
In order to develop intrinsic motivation skills you need to focus on your needs.
A feeling of competence is important - knowing what you are doing, and being capable of performing to a professional level, makes you feel good about yourself. This stems from the core competencies including: knowledge, leadership & team work and decision making.
You will also need to feel a sense of self determination - that you are in control of your own success. The feeling that you were responsible for the behaviour that led to your success is a strong motivational driver. The effects of furlough and unpaid leave remove some of this self determination and so can undermine intrinsic motivation.
Remove either of these competence or self-determination elements and intrinsic motivation can start to degrade.