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Southwest Airlines: A Case Study in Employee Engagement

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Roy Nabors has been a ramp agent for for seven years. His primary job function includes marshaling planes and loading and unloading freight and baggage. When he initially applied for the position never would he have imagined that his job function would one day encompass color patterns and uniform design.

Robert Alexander | Getty Images

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Approximately two years ago Southwest Airlines, the world's largest low-cost carrier, unveiled a new logo (a heart colored by blue, red and orange stripes). Two years later Southwest Airlines is ready to unveil a bold and bright new uniform design. However, instead of hiring an outside company for the undertaking, it tapped employees like Roy Nabors to get the job done.

When Southwest Airlines executives realized it was time refurbish their outdated uniforms, instead of hiring an outside designer, they put out an open call to employees from all departments. Anyone interested in contributing thoughts and suggestions to the design of the airline's new uniform was welcome to apply. Thousands expressed an interest and the company eventually narrowed it down to forty-three employees.

Over the course of 19 months, those selected employees met every two weeks in Chicago and Dallas to collaborate on the design of the new uniforms. The result? A bolder, more fashion forward and functional uniform for employees. The new uniforms are also machine washable, a rarity when it comes to airline attire. Those who participated in this undertaking, such as Joan Mast, a flight attendant for the airline for 36 years, called it an "unforgettable experience."

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Incorporating employees into the creative decision making process allows for a more authentic brand. According to Sonya Lacore, vice president of Cabin Services for Southwest Airlines, the new uniforms truly reflect the personality of the company's employees. The same result may not have been achieved if the uniforms were designed by an outside firm.

Also, the process of bringing employees together from various departments, various cities and various job functions allowed employees to interact and work together with fellow employees who otherwise may have never had an opportunity to do so, arguably contributing to a more cohesive workplace . Lastly, allowing employees to apply innovative thinking outside of the scope of their day-to-day functions benefits both employees and employers. As Andy Savitz author of "Talent, Transformation and The Triple Bottom Line" notes, "engaged employees tend to be more motivated, more loyal and more inspired."

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The new uniforms are expected to publicly launch soon.

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