Sometimes the media is just plain wrong — it’s not all about the perks. “The media will often have you believe that being the best employer is about how many benefits you offer your employees,” said Andrea Slingsby, former president of Flight Centre North America. “Offering massages at lunch time or adding three extra days holiday a year doesn’t have as much impact as creating a stimulating work environment and making sure people work with leaders they respect.”
Flight Centre knows that engaging their employees involves more than just wages and perks, and they have the success to prove it. In the precarious travel industry where nearly a quarter of companies go out of business in their first year, Flight Centre is thriving. Flight Centre North America, with its head office in Vancouver, has over 130 shops and 800 staff in locations ranging from Halifax to Los Angeles. Last year Flight Centre opened 36 new shops and showed no sign of slowing down.
According to Andrea, a large part of their success comes from their “brightness of vision” philosophy. If people see they have opportunity to grow and move forward with the company, they’re more likely to make meaningful contributions. “When we haven’t been good at painting a picture of where the company is going, our staff turnover has gone up,” said Andrea. So Flight Centre makes sure they keep their people up-to-date.
Andrea described how she herself spends a great deal of time keeping her colleagues in the loop. There’s her monthly newsletter called Limitless, her innumerable conference calls with every team manager (over 300 of them), her presence at dozens of staff functions including “Buzz Nights” (local celebrations acknowledging top employees) and of course the famed Flight Centre Awards Gala, a worldwide celebration honouring the most successful employees.
Andrea described Flight Centre as a “team-based organization” with no private offices, always-open-door policy, no receptionists or secretaries, and a maximum of eight to 10 people per team. She even runs a workshop where anyone can sign up for an hour of her time, making suggestions and offering their thoughts about the company.
“There’s not a lot of BS or bureaucracy here, said Andrea. “We want people to say what’s working and what’s not working, otherwise how can we fix it?”
Flight Centre even has an employee ownership program in which top managers are invited to “buy” part of their shop by putting down a cash deposit and then receiving a portion of the extra profits.
But these programs and ideas didn’t happen overnight. Learning how to properly engage their employees took place over a period of 25 years. Andrea again emphasized the importance of having the right leaders. “Good leaders will help you have a great culture. When you have a great culture and working environment, profitability will follow.” That’s what she has learned, even if the media doesn’t agree.