Build Employee Loyalty in 4 Steps: Lessons From Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines prides itself on never having had to lay off employees in its 49-year history, and despite the rough weather it is battling due to the pandemic, Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said there’s no plan for pay cuts or involuntary furloughs this year.
This is just one example of Southwest’s many people-first policies, which have been the main driver of the company’s success. At the core of Southwest’s policies is its 46-year-old profit-sharing plan, which, along with the company’s culture, has helped boost employee engagement and morale. This, in turn, has translated to better company performance overall, and Southwest posted its 47th consecutive year of profitability in 2019.
Why Is Employee Loyalty Important to Recruiters?
- Employees are a company’s strongest advocates on the recruitment side, and employee loyalty is a strong signal to job seekers that helps you attract great talent and retain them as well.
- Employee referrals are perhaps the most cost-effective channel to source candidates, and an organization with thriving employee loyalty is bound to have great success with referrals.
Now that we’ve established why employee loyalty is important, let’s outline some lessons you can learn from Southwest, a company where employee loyalty is incredibly high in a world where the norm is quitting jobs in a short period of time to move on to better ones.
1. Create a Deeper Connection With Your Employees
Southwest makes its employees feel valued, trusted, and happy by instilling in them a sense of purpose and allowing them to do the right thing. It hires people who are passionate about not only customer service but also community service.
Employees at Southwest receive letters of thanks from customers (known as “LUV Mail”). Instead of tipping, flyers can thank employees by sending them a “Customer Kick Tail-A-Gram.” If nominated for this perk, an employee receives a card that allows them to enter a regular lottery.
Seeing your employees as your friends and family allows you to touch their personal lives beyond their professional lives. This helps in creating deeper connections between employees and their jobs, thereby instilling a sense of purpose in them.
2. Work on Your Employer Branding From Within
Southwest’s ratings of 4.4 on Glassdoor and 4.3 on Indeed are among the highest in the airline industry. This is all thanks to Southwest’s strong employer brand, which is not the by-product of an exterior function but the result of its core activities centered around its people.
The 9/11 catastrophe hit the airline industry hard. Many carriers had to lay off some of their employees, but Southwest had other ideas. It seized this opportunity to establish its employer branding with the understanding that, if you take care of your employees in bad times, they will feel all the more inclined to stick around during good times.
3. Treating Employees Like Family = Employees Treating Customers Like Family
There are many stories of Southwest employees going above and beyond to serve customers. Once, when things got stressful at an airport due to bad weather and delays, Southwest employees played gate games with their customers to help them relax. For example, a gate agent offered a $25 coupon to the customer with the biggest hole in their sock. By treating its employees like family, Southwest has gained employees who treat customers like family. For many years, Southwest paychecks carried the message “Provided by our customers” to remind employees’ of customer importance.
Empower your employees to make decisions regardless of their place in the hierarchy. This kind of autonomy and authority will make employees feel more accountable.
4. Empower Employees by Trusting Them
At Southwest, the key to empowering employees is trusting them. Employees are free to share their input to bolster the company’s policies and procedures. The philosophy Southwest teaches to employees is that, as long as they intended to help a customer, a coworker, or the company, there would be no negative consequences — even if a well-intentioned initiative backfired. In other words, Southwest insists people use their common sense while making decisions instead of defaulting to a rulebook.
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