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Sky High Motivation

August 13, 2009

Making money and genuinely having fun doing it is something most people want in life. For Southwest Airlines, this concept is a reality. Every year since 1973 the sixth largest airline in the US has remained in the black and contributes that success to one key ingredient: employee motivation.

Southwest’s cofounder Herb Kelleher developed the culture of his airline to center around loving its employees and just having fun at work. The philosophy behind this is that if they treat their employees well, the employees will pass that feeling of goodwill onto their customers. As a result, Southwest has a very low employee turnover rate, have the fewest customer complaints in the airline industry, and have the reputation as being the most fun airline to fly with.

How do they motivate employees? By giving recognition in a generally non-cash oriented fashion. Aside from throwing parties and company barbecues for employee achievements, recognition starts as simple as employees receiving cards for birthdays, work anniversaries, Christmas, birth announcements and condolence cards for deaths in the family. There are often drawings for things like brand new computer systems, flight coupons and gift certificates. To promote employee attendance, Southwest placed employees with perfect attendance into a drawing for brand new Ford Explorers.

Sound expensive? Giving away new Ford Explorers for perfect attendance helped Southwest save nearly $1 million in sick leave pay. When asked in an interview if he was worried about the amount of spending involved with employee recognition, Kelleher gave this reply:

“Well, if you were a statistician, you wouldn’t do these kinds of things, because you’d say, ‘Well, we could save money if we didn’t do it.’ Southwest Airlines has the best customer-complaint record in the American airline industry, and who can say how much that’s worth? I could sit in my office one afternoon and cut Southwest Airlines’ budget substantially by cutting these things. But that’s like cutting out your heart.”

Employee recognition truly can pay. How are you motivating your workforce?

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