The main task of this paper is conducting a research on the factors and instruments of motivating the workforce of the Southwest airlines. I will analyze Southwest Airlines motivating strategies by applying Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs and reinforcement theory. Southwest Airlines is one of the biggest and most profitable airline companies in the USA. The company’s consolidated operating revenues accounted for $15.7 billion in 2011, showing 39 consecutive years of profitability. Southwest Airlines employs more than 45 000 employees (Southwest Airlines one report, 2011).
Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy and its Application to Southwest Airlines
According to Chapman (n.d.), the main five levels of Maslow’s needs include biological and physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs. As for first level of needs, essential for each person such as food or shelter, it is guaranteed at Southwest Airlines by decent level of salaries and percent in gained profit (Smith, 2004).
Regarding the safety needs characterised in the form of security and stability, as pointed by Bunz and Maes (1998), Southwest Airlines do not fire the company employees; instead, they invest in the constant development and gaining of a new knowledge for the employees to fit the corporate culture. Other airlines companies adjust the number of employees according to changing economic environment that is hiring during the economic growth and firing in the period of recession. In contrast, Southwest hires skilled employees to meet its growing demand.
At the third level of needs, with its group attitude and the feelings of importance and support, it should be noted that Southwest Airlines realizes employees’ perception as the highest value in the company’s policy. It can sound strange and uncommon, but at Southwest the employees are most important, and the customer possesses the second place. The employees feel involved, their rights and thoughts are respected, and their ideas are supported. Therefore, providing high service standards is the way of life for the employees, not an obligation or fear of being punished by the management (Dawna, 2006).
Moreover, the mission of Southwest Airlines is “dedication of the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit” (Southwest Airlines, 1). Assuring such positive attitude for its employees, Southwest expects the similar attitude to the clients from its workers.
Taking into consideration the esteem and self-actualization needs, it is worth mentioning that Southwest encourages innovation, supports individuality and personality of its employees. The company’s management welcomes new extraordinary ideas, allows to experiment and to try new approaches to the service providing, demonstrating leadership skills (Smith, 2004).
Application of the Reinforcement Theory at Southwest Airlines
According to Daft and Lane (2008), reinforcement theory of motivation, proposed by Skinner, implies creation of such external company’s environment where the law of effect exists. It means that promotion of positive behavior will cause its repetition and not reinforce the behaviour that could lead to negative consequences previously. This theory combines 4 methods of employees’ motivation: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and extinction.
Smith (2004) argued that the perception of the job as fun and as a possibility to be creative is a characteristic feature at Southwest Airlines. Employees are highly rewarded for being an example of positive attitude to customers; negative reinforcement or massive punishment are not appropriate methods of this company. The emphasis is put on the understanding of the great credit that the company is giving to the employees, and it does not allow them to lower the service standards.
Success of Southwest Airlines and Motivated Workforce
According to the Southwest Airlines report (2011), the number of complaints per customer at Southwest Airlines is the lowest comparing to major U.S. carriers. Many airlines companies tried to copy and implement the Southwest’s unique corporate culture, but only this company succeeds in keeping its employees involved and highly motivated, giving them an opportunity of self-development, experimentation, encouraging creative approach to problem solving, and rewarding successful efforts. Laszlo (1999) underlined that the employees at Southwest Airlines feel as a most essential and core part of all service system; they have an opportunity of behaving and feeling just like at home, demonstrating fun and cheerfulness to the customers. The author argued that the competition inside a company was perceived as a challenge to move forward, positive and creative attitude to work was a background and the driving force for company’s success. Moreover, “employees see themselves not as an airline with great customer service but as a great customer service organization that happens to be an airline” (p.90). It is pointed in Southwest Airlines report (2011) that “living the Southwest way is to have a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, and a fun-LUVing attitude”.
To summarize the above mentioned, I would like to put an emphasis on the unique corporate culture of Southwest Airlines, where an employee is the most indispensable value for the company. Management of the company addressed its motivation policy to the highest level of the needs hierarchy described by Maslow that is esteem and self-actualization needs by stimulating constant development, supporting innovation inflow by practical implementation even the most challenging ideas. Southwest is a company with such an environment where each employee is sure about the stability of their working position; company provides equal opportunities for the professional education and development, and the employees’ proposals and efforts are highly rewarded. This company reinforces positive behaviour and rarely uses punishment, because even the unsuccessful efforts are perceived as attempts on the way to further improvement of the service quality, which is known by everyone who has ever flown with Southwest Airlines.