Have you “flown the friendly skies” lately? If you’ve listened to the latest news reports, you know the skies aren’t as friendly as they used to be. In fact, 85% of nearly 5,000 United States flight attendants surveyed said they had to deal with an unruly passenger in 2021. 17% said they had been assaulted, according to the American Flight Attendants Union. That number is disturbingly, the highest EVER in airline industry history.

It’s no surprise that the retention rate of keeping flight attendants is at an all-time low. Turnover rates in the airline industry are hovering around 20%, with 50% quitting in their first 90 days. It may surprise you however, that unruly passengers are not the number one reason flight attendants are quitting in droves. In fact, according to Forbes Magazine, the number one reason most Americans (not just flight attendants) are quitting their jobs is due to burnout or job fatigue. The second reason people are quitting their job is due to a toxic work environment.


How Do You Keep Quality Employees?

Once you’ve “caught” that perfect employee, how do you keep them, especially if the job is difficult? In the example above, keeping great employees in a high turn-over industry seems impossible, especially with outside forces, like angry and aggressive flight passengers. Job fatigue weighs heavily on those in the airline industry as well, causing a higher turnover rate.  There is one airline however, defying high turnover rates, despite the increased hazardous environment and the inherent difficulty of the job. In fact, Southwest Airlines, based right here in Texas, enjoy a 96% retention rate and are keeping their great employees.


The Secret to Keeping Great Employees:

As it turns out, the secret for Southwest Airlines’ success in keeping great employees is fairly simple. Founder, Herb Kelleher tells the story of many different companies visiting their corporate offices in Dallas to discover their “secret”:

  • “They were interested in how we hired, trained, that sort of thing,” Kelleher said. “Then we’d say, ‘Treat your people well and they’ll treat you well,’ and then they’d go home disappointed. It was too simple.”

It may seem “too simple”, but the success of Southwest Airlines’ 48 years of low turnover is hard to refute. Even in the currently “unfriendly skies” 85% of SWA employees felt like their company helped and supported them. Southwest Airlines allows more flexibility with schedules and works to decrease fatigue and manages scheduling to help employees avoid burn out. James Ashworth, VP of customer Support and Services for Southwest states:

  • “The thing I love the most about my job is the people I work with at Southwest Airlines,” said Ashworth. “We believe if we take good care of our employees, they will take good care of our customers. And that commitment drives our culture.”


Let’s outline some great ideas from Southwest Airlines as well as other top businesses across the county. Ideas implemented by Zappos, Google, Twitter and Chevron will help you, the small business owner, keep quality employees and create the best work environment.


Create a Positive Corporate Culture:

You, the small business owner is responsible for your own “Corporate Culture.” Whether you have 2 employees or 200, the groundwork for a positive work environment needs to be in place, with constant reinforcement. Here are some ideas to create a positive corporate culture:


Hire the Right Person:

Make sure that great employee will get along with, or mesh with your other terrific employees. Create a sense of family and cooperation. (Check out my previous blog!)


Train them well:

SHOW, don’t just TELL. 65% of the population are visual learners. Show them how you want the racks of clothing organized, or how to set the table in your restaurant. Make sure you not only train your new employee but reinforce the training in the current staff.


Give Praise Sincerely and Honestly:

Try to give encouragement and praise more often than criticism. In fact, according to research and Psychology Today, successful small business owners give praise and encouragement five-times more often than criticism.


Provide Flexibility:

While it’s true: some employees thrive in a well-structured environment, more and more great employees are finding flexibility more valuable than ridged schedules. Be prepared to offer flexibility, where possible. Maybe you can’t change the deadline(s) that work is due, but perhaps you can offer the flexibility of when and where your team works on the project. Be open to offering more options.


Offer a Path to Advancement:

Giving great employees goals and something to reach for, will improve your company’s culture. Create teams and team leaders, contests, or opportunities to get outside training or cross-training.


Lead by Example:

The most important part of keeping great employees, is being a great boss. MIT Sloan Management Review discovered employees are 90% more likely to keep a lower paying job with a positive corporate culture than jump to a new job promising more money. Your example and reinforcement of your high standards and positive work culture will help you keep the great employees you have.


Don’t Micromanage:

Be careful suffocating your employees with micromanaging. Give employees a task or goal to achieve and then give them the space and time to accomplish it. If they need your help, let them know you will help them, but allow them to build confidence by completing the task or achieving the goal without you hovering over them and telling them exactly how to do the task.


Have Patience:

New employees are needy. They don’t know what to do, who to help them or how to find resources. Don’t show your frustration. Allow them to make some mistakes and guide them along the process. Nothing will push an employee out the door faster than an impatient boss.



For additional resources on how to keep the great employees you have, and how to create the best work environment, please contact our experts at the Small Business Development Center – SBDC – serving Collin and Rockwall Counties, Texas.   


Blog post by: Steve Shalosky