Businessolver Blog

Tips from the Top: 3 Ways Southwest Airlines Attracts and Retains Best Talent – and Makes a Profit

Tips from the Top: 3 Ways Southwest Airlines Attracts and Retains Best Talent – and Makes a Profit
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2019 by Marcy Klipfel

In the crowded field of airlines, Southwest stands out…


With stories about flight attendants putting hilarious creativity into their safety announcements, to pilots voluntarily trying to save money on fuel and passengers getting up to two bags that fly free (others charge upwards of $50 per bag).

Not only that, Southwest just finished its 46th consecutive year of profitability, with a net income of $2.5 billion in annual revenue. With all these stories of success, you begin to wonder, what are they doing right?

Employee appreciation and stellar company culture.

Southwest Airlines takes pride in rewarding and supporting their employees in real ways. In fact, on March 15 of this year, they doled out $544 million to its workers under their profit-sharing plan, the highest since they began the program in 1974. That’s about 10.8% of employees’ pay. Additionally, Southwest has some other impressive stats surrounding their policies:

  • Only 4% voluntary turnover
  • #1 in lowest number of consumer complaints
  • 85% employees say they’re proud to work for Southwest
  • No layoffs or furloughs ever

According to CEO Gary Kelly, “Our people are our greatest asset, and they deserve all the credit for our continued success. The vast majority of our employees describe their work as ‘a calling,’ and it’s an honor to be able to recognize them for their passion, dedication and contributions.”

They don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to valuing employees. For example, they developed a special Culture Services department whose mission is to retain focus on company values. They do this by special employee-only events and “Culture Blitzes” where a Culture Services team visits an airport and provides food, games and support to its employees there. This helps reinforce company values and provides needed engagement opportunities in the workplace.

Encourage leadership regardless of position.

Southwest makes it a point to celebrate leadership at all levels. For example, at their Culture Connection seminar, they highlighted a baggage handler who plays the ukulele for passengers when he has a spare moment. Leaders and high-potential employees attend extensive leadership training to empower them to create moments of empathy with other employees and passengers. No gesture is too small!

Put benefits first.

More than just a paycheck, Southwest Airlines provides multiple benefits and perks that speak to their core values and employees, including:

  • Travel privileges for employees and their dependents
  • The Tickets for Time program that encourages employees to volunteer by donating round trip tickets to nonprofits based on employee volunteer hours
  • Profit-sharing programs

And an employee gratitude program called SWAG-Southwest Airlines Gratitude, where employees can send recognition to each other with an internal thank you note. Employees all the way up to the CEO can receive recognition. These points can then be turned in for further rewards such as guest passes, gift cards, merchandise and even tickets.

Southwest Airlines is a stellar example of how putting employees first boosts engagement and retention rates, but also proves to be a best business practice.