How Southwest Airlines Engages Employees

How Southwest Airlines Engages Employees

Developing Passionate Employees

Southwest Airlines surveyed their employees last year and found that 86 percent are proud to work for the company. There’s a reason for that—they take the hiring process very seriously and only those truly motivated to do the job are hired. Out of over 148,000 applications they received last year, only 3 percent made the cut. “We hire tough,” said Julie Weber, Vice President of People for Southwest Airlines and a University of Dallas alumna.

Weber shared Southwest’s unique approach to employee engagement during the University of Dallas’ Sustainable Business Network event held in March. Nearly 100 attendees heard how Southwest–the nation’s largest domestic carrier–recruits, hires, and retains employees who are passionate about the company, its customers, and the communities in which they live.

Hiring for Attitude, Training for Skills

“To begin with,” said Weber, “we hire people who want to be engaged, and then we set expectations for employees that foster engagement.” Employees are expected to “live the Southwest way,” which includes having a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart and a fun-loving attitude. To ensure that everyone meets these expectations, Weber said that Southwest hires for attitude and trains for skills. “You can’t really train someone to have a servant’s heart,” she said. “So we look for that attitude in the interview.”

Debra Benton, Director of Community Programs and Engagement, explained how, as a corporation, Southwest exemplifies the spirit of a servant’s heart through a variety of programs. First, the company focuses on select national causes including placemaking (the creation of common spaces within communities), supporting military families, and assisting families facing life threatening illness. In addition, locally-based groups of Southwest employees volunteer their time on Community Giving Boards. These Boards oversee corporate donations in the communities where they live and work, allowing the volunteers to address the most pressing needs.

Fostering the Culture

Finally, Benton detailed “Tickets for Time,” a program in which Southwest encourages employees to volunteer with organizations they are passionate about. In return Southwest donates one round-trip ticket to the organization for every 40 hours volunteered by Southwest employees. This allows the company to balance a high-level strategic giving plan with its employees’ personal passions.

Benton explained that a fun-loving attitude is also an essential part of the company’s culture and includes recognition banquets, employee rallies and even occasional surprises. The guests of the Sustainable Business Network were treated to just such a surprise when Benton announced that each attendee would receive a $50 Southwest travel voucher. Needless to say, there was a lot of “luv” in the room.

About the Sustainable Business Network

The University of Dallas Sustainable Business Network (SBN) is an open forum for building relationships, exchanging best practices and fostering dialogue around issues of corporate social responsibility, sustainability and eco-innovation, and corporate governance. Hosted by the AACSB-accredited Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas, SBN hosts quarterly events and panel discussions on relevant topics led by recognized industry experts.

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