Southwest Airlines: A Case Study in Employee Engagement Having employees apply innovative thinking outside of the scope of their daily functions benefits both employees and employers.

By Jaia Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Robert Alexander | Getty Images

Roy Nabors has been a ramp agent for Southwest Airlines 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.

Related: Employee Engagement Is More Important Than the Customer

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When Southwest Airlines executives realized it was time refurbish their outdated uniforms, instead of hiring an outside designer, they put out an open call to employees from all departments.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."

Related: Poor Employee Engagement Is the Biggest Retail Fail of 2015

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 culture. 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."

Related: The Secret to Employee Engagement

The new uniforms are expected to publicly launch soon.

Wavy Line
Jaia Thomas

Attorney and Entrepreneur

Jaia Thomas is a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment attorney. She also assists business owners with intellectual property matters, such as copyright and trademark registrations.

Editor's Pick

A Leader's Most Powerful Tool Is Executive Capital. Here's What It Is — and How to Earn It.
One Man's Casual Side Hustle Became an International Phenomenon — And It's on Track to See $15 Million in Revenue This Year
3 Reasons to Keep Posting on LinkedIn, Even If Nobody Is Engaging With You
Why a Strong Chief Financial Officer Is Crucial for Your Franchise — and What to Look for When Hiring One

Related Topics


Working Remote? These Are the Biggest Dos and Don'ts of Video Conferencing

As more and more businesses go remote, these are ways to be more effective and efficient on conference calls.

Growing a Business

The Best Way to Run a Business Meeting

All too often, meetings run longer than they should and fail to keep attendees engaged. Here's how to run a meeting the right way.

Starting a Business

5 Tips For Launching a Business While Keeping Your Day Job

Launching a business while holding down a 9-to-5 is no small feat. It's a common path for aspiring entrepreneurs, but it's not without its challenges.


Why Time Management Doesn't Work — And How My Team Doubled Their Productivity Once I Started Doing This Instead

Time management is killing your productivity – here's why and what you need to do to increase your productivity instead.

Starting a Business

Honey, We Have a…Company! — 6 Tips for Running a Business With Your Romantic Partner

The unique challenges (and gifts!) in running a business with your romantic partner