Joleesa Robinson, left, and Pam August, from WestJet, are joined by Kevin Mouflier, president of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. The two women took part in the keynote presentation at the recent TIAPEI annual general meeting in Charlottetown. Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
In an industry where a lot of companies have failed, WestJet saves $10 million a year by not hiring people to clean its airplanes after every flight.
Instead its employees do it on their days off when they use the airline to fly.
Pam August, an organization development specialist with the airline, said there is a pride of ownership at WestJet where the employees have a stake in the company.
She saw that pride in a coworker who she said once told her he loved working for a company where its employees picked up other people’s garbage on their days off.
“That little thing like picking up garbage really speaks to the level of ownership,” she said.
August was the keynote speaker at the recent Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. (TAIPEI) annual general meeting in Charlottetown.
WestJet is in an industry that has a history of financial struggles, including the more than 78 airlines August said have gone out of business in Canada. In the U.S. the figures were even worse where more than 350 airlines have come and gone.
WestJet is different because of its “culture of care,” August said.
That starts with not calling its customers passengers, but referring to them as guests instead. August said a passenger is someone who pays for a ticket, while a guest is someone special.
“People will say it’s just semantics. Words create worlds.”
August said the airline’s mission is to enrich lives through safe, friendly and affordable air travel and that WestJet isn’t around just to fly people.
“We believe we are here to make lives better,” she said.
Air travel has become a largely unpleasant experience and while some airlines deal with that through amenities and services, WestJet’s focus has been on the connections it makes with guests through its people, August said.
“Creating an experience that actually makes it a better part of the journey.”
Since the airline first took flight in 1996 it has grown to more than 9,600 employees and receives 1,200 unsolicited resumes a week.
August said WestJet takes care of its employees, in part through shared beliefs.
The company’s employees call themselves “WestJetters” and August said the airline is very careful about hiring people who fit.
“Building that kind of identity is really really critical because everything else builds off of that.”
August said the company puts a lot of focus on having fun and laughter is a huge part of WestJet’s culture.
“It’s not just warm and fuzzy. It’s actually good business.”