Southwest Airlines chief: obtaining sky-high profits through a culture of fun

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In a time when most major airlines are struggling to remain viable, Southwest has just documented its 41st consecutive year of profitability and was recently named one of Fortune magazine’s “World’s Most Admired Companies.”
 
The company’s secret?  Making sure all of its employees are having a little fun.
 
“We know that happy employees make for happy customers, so we hire for attitude,” said Julie Weber, vice president of people. “As the saying here goes, ‘We hire for attitude and train for skill.’” 
 
This strategy can be seen in countless viral YouTube videos featuring Southwest pilots and flight attendants delivering safety addresses through a freestyle rap or comedy routine. Notable one-liners include, “For those of you traveling with children…why?” and “Don’t be naughty in that potty!”
 
Some of the other ways that the company combats monotony include:
 
  • Pajama Day
  • Rocking chair sessions - when retiring employees reflect on their time at Southwest
  • Chili “cook-off” held every year at an amusement park
  • A “spirit party” held in a different Southwest destination city every September
  • “Gate games” for customers waiting in a flight delay, such as trivia or offering a gift card to whomever can procure a sock with a hole in it the fastest
  • Office/airport gate decorating contests
 
In addition, a culture services team ensures that the company celebrates its successes and recognizes exceptional workers. This can range from the CEO commending individuals during his weekly “News Line” broadcast to a division that sends flowers, gifts, and cards to employees going through a major life event such as marriage or childbirth.
 
“No matter where you are, we really work to bring out the fun,” said Weber.
 
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