Humour at Work (Part 5): Comedy Case Study
Southwest Airlines president & CEO, Herbert D. Kelleher was dubbed by Fortune Magazine as the ‘High Priest of Ha Ha’. His beliefs and attitude has spread right through the company; showing how humour can enhance staff-management relations, customer service and profits.
This highly effective airline operates from Dallas, in an industry which is plagued by: employee and management disputes, changes in staff, lay offs, fare wars and increasing costs. Despite this, Southwest’s methods and success have gained much notoriety; inside and outside the business.
Kelleher’s philosophy and personality stretches right through the company. The culture is special and is held together by a very rigorous recruitment and continuous staff training policy.
Southwest receive well over 120,000 applications a year, for jobs as diverse as: flight attendants, pilots, agents and mechanics. Their attitude is ‘I want to work for Southwest because it’s so much fun’. Therefore, the company has to play down the fun aspect and emphasise the hard work involved.
In 1994 the People’s Department (Personnel) interviewed over 35,000 people, for 4,500 positions; in 2014 it was over double. After passing an initial group interview, the applicants have to take part in three, one to one interviews; with key Southwest staff.
The company does not use personality tests as some do. It places emphasis on the applicants past history and behaviour, which should result in the way the person behaves in the future; through a process of targeted selection. This selection process was tailored to Southwest’s own unique culture; based on the corporation’s priority on attitude and therefore difficult for another company to copy.
In training, new staff are shown three different videos, introducing them to the company and its culture; as well as their job role. Emphasis is put on creativity, through teamwork and practical exercises. For example; a team of eight people are given 12 straws, four strips of masking tape and a raw egg. The objective is to manufacture a device in a few minutes, that will keep the egg intact, when it’s dropped from a height of 10 feet.
Such training has helped employees to think for themselves. Gags and individual jibes by flight attendants, don’t seem strictly planned and rely on personal judgement as to whether the jolly jest will work.
Examples of Humour
When flying Southwest Airlines, it is not unusual to find flight staff, trying their hand at stand up comedy or singing songs. “Yes there is a smoking section on this flight. Please feel free to step out on the wing if you need to light up“. You could even have employees wear buttons that say ‘Wanna hear a joke? Southwest Airlines’.
Reputation has spread among the flying public and many of them recount stories from personal experiences; such as the flight attendant who announced “Southwest Airlines would like to congratulate one of our first time flyers who is celebrating his eighty ninth birthday. Ladies and gentlemen be sure to poke your head into the cockpit and say happy birthday to your pilot”.
Other incidents reported on board their flights range from, putting rubber cockroaches into a passenger’s drink (but not letting them drink it). To when passengers ask what food is being served, they are shown a cut out picture of steak and potatoes (Southwest don’t serve food on board).
The staff are also known for playing jokes among themselves, dressing up in crazy costumes and throwing parties. One airline manager was shipping a large empty kennel, to a customer in Dallas. He contacted staff there and told them to be careful with the wild boar in the kennel, that was stowed in the luggage bin. As soon as they opened the bin door and saw the empty kennel, they ran everywhere; in fear that they had a wild boar loose in the belly of the plane.
All this may not be every passenger’s idea of in flight entertainment. But the strong interest for tickets on their flights, show that there is a demand for what they offer and it has only been successful, through the implementation of the top management’s attitude running all the way through the company.
Other Blog Articles on Humour in the Workplace
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.