Example 1: In the first few years of online ticketing, Southwest avoided consolidating its reservation centers by shifting schedules, eliminating overtime and other maneuvers. It never furloughed anyone.
Finally, financial concerns forced Southwest to close three centers, consolidating them into the remaining six.
Southwest leaders gave employees three months’ notice, offered everyone a chance to transfer to another center, brought center leaders to headquarters to talk, went out to the centers to talk, offered three weeks’ job-search training, offered online classes, brought other companies in for a job fair, rolled out a change- class and provided the leaders’ phone numbers for support.
Example 2: On Sept. 11, 2001, all planes were grounded and most airlines started talking within hours about furloughs and layoffs. Southwest immediately promised no layoffs and, within two weeks, decided to fund its profit-sharing program as usual.
With so many planes — and people — idled, those promises were hard to keep. Southwest created an in-house temp agency that lent employees to the customer-service and refunds departments, which were overwhelmed with thousands of phone calls.
Example 3: When the Transportation Security Administration started replacing Southwest’s own security employees, the airline offered a buyout to all so that no one had to be laid off. It also offered incentives to transfer to understaffed locations, and an in-house program to fill its next class of flight attendants.
Employees who tested too low to become flight attendants were able to resume their former jobs. The program filled two classes with 140 aspiring flight attendants from all corners of the company.
Lesson: When hard times hit, tell employees quickly and involve them in figuring out how you can help.
—Adapted from Lessons in Loyalty, Lorraine Grubbs- West, CornerStone Institute.