Southwest’s successful engagement with their employees

SCapling    October 5, 2015

Before I jump into a multitude of reasons why Southwest is seemingly a great company to work for and how they engage their 46,000+ employees, I want to share some alarming facts regarding employers that don’t promote employee engagement.

It is startling to learn that unhappy employees cost employers hundreds of billions of dollars annually in lost productivity. Employee engagement (or disengagement) directly affects numerous performance results including employee turnover, absenteeism, shrinkage, safety incidents, quality, customer metrics, productivity and of course profitability.

One survey through The Employee Engagement Group estimates that unhappy workers cost employers over $450 billion annually because 7 out of 10 employees are dis-engaged while 2 of those 10 are actually trying to “sink your boat”.

If more employers simply engaged their employees in meaningful ways, allowing them to feel influential, many companies could not only mitigate these losses but possibly reverse them, increasing their company performance and bottom line.

The takeaway is clear. If you don’t involve your staff don’t expect results.

SouthWest logo

Organization name – Southwest Airlines

Industry – Airline

About Southwest

Southwest Airlines Co. is a major U.S. airline and the world’s largest low-cost carrier, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The airline was established in 1967 and adopted its current name in 1971. The airline has nearly 46,000 employees and operates more than 3,400 flights per day.

It seems hard to believe that a company like Southwest has been as successful as they are when their competitors have struggled in recent years.  Not only have they survived through the economic downturns like Black Monday 1987 or the financial crisis of 2008, they actually thrived and gained market share. Southwest Airlines has been operating for 43 years and have had 40 consecutive years of profitably yet they don’t stop to rest on their laurels. As a global customer service leader, Southwest executives and employees continue striving to improve their service, culture, and to create even more loyal customers.

In 2013, Southwest told their employees: Our vision is to become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.

In order to achieve this vision their entire staff has to believe in this vision and embody it; every day. How do they do it? Internal communications for one.

  1. Every week Gary Kelly gives a “shout out”—public praise—to employees who have gone above and beyond to show great customer service.
  2. Each month the Southwest Spirit magazine features the story of an employee who has gone above and beyond. Southwest highlights positive behaviors through a variety of recognition programs and awards.
  3. Finally, internal corporate videos are filled with real examples and stories to help employees visualize what each step of the purpose looks and feels like.

In one video, Jessica, a Southwest customer, talks about the day she and her family saw her husband off for a six-month deployment in Kuwait. Kelli, a customer service agent, saw the family and asked if they all wanted to go to the gate. “It bought us thirty more minutes to spend time together,” Jessica said. Yet another employee asked if the family would like to go on the plane. The man’s children were able to give him one last hug as passengers cheered.


Talk about employee engagement. Southwest has empowered their employees to “do the right thing.” These simple acts of kindness can (and will) catapult a brand with today’s social media savvy customers. All customers want respect but add a warm and thoughtful experience and that can go viral…with 4,765,627 likes on Facebook they are doing just that.

You can find customer experience stories and videos online by the thousands, focusing on the friendly service which ties into their corporate slogan – “Without a heart, it’s just a machine”

SouthWest heart logo

While there doesn’t seem to be a policy prohibiting employees from communicating on social media, they do have a smart Social Media Guideline which outlines how employees should conduct themselves when practicing any and all social media, including personally. They clearly trust and empower their employees to make decisions on a daily basis which makes me believe they should not have much to worry about when it comes to their employee’s personal social media practices.

They have a well thought out recruitment strategy providing potential candidates with their mission and vision at first glance setting their expectations early. Imagine looking for a job and landing on the Southwest Careers page, it is inspiring in itself.  Their recruiting slogan – “not just a career, a cause.”  “At Southwest Airlines we connect People to what’s important in their lives — that also means connecting our employees to what’s important in their lives! Our Employees value the opportunity to work hard, be creative, and have fun on the job.”

Follow that up with their recruitment Purpose and vision video and I feel like I should consider a new career with Southwest…as I quickly respond “just kidding” to my boss.

Southwest’s founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher once described his approach to management:

“If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.” 

In 2015, Southwest was ranked #15 in the Glassdoor Employees’ Choice Awards

Conclusion / observation:

While innovation and evolution are important in any industry, service and customer experience are, and will always be the forefront of every industry and era. Southwest gets it, communicates it and lives it. They understand that your best asset is your brand and your most important resource are your employees and have built one of the most admired brands in the world because they not only engage their employees, they empower them, allowing them to be their face and brand.


Contact: Gary Kelly, CEO Southwest Airlines

Web references – Customer Experience Matters , Southwest website Youtube,, Wikipedia

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