Zappos: 5 Out-of-the-Box Ideas for Keeping Employees Engaged

Zappos content developer shares secrets for creating a productive and creative work environment.

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Mig Pascual
Mig Pascual
One of the challenges in workplaces today is keeping employees engaged. In the Zappos Family of Companies, the culture enables employees to live and work according to their personal values. We hire based on alignment with our 10 Core Values and fit for the culture. This helps increase productivity, communication, and creativity, while reducing sick time and turnover.

Here are five ways Zappos' work environment fosters naturally engaged employees who are passionate about what they do:

1. Let employees be themselves. Zappos has a casual work environment where employees can be their most authentic selves. The dress code is relaxed so they can feel comfortable. As long as their outfits are respectable and work-appropriate, employees have the freedom to express their individual style. You'll see styles spanning from fashionista to jeans, shorts, and T-shirts. You'll even spot pink and Mohawk hairdos.

Employees may also decorate their desks to create their "home away from home." On any given desk, you might find pictures of family, friends, and things they value, or office toys and colorful décor.

"Create Fun and A Little Weirdness" is one of the Zappos' 10 Core Values, and with that we celebrate everyone's unique personality. By allowing employees to be comfortable and themselves at work, we make it easy for them to build genuine connections. Building relationships helps increase knowledge-sharing, and trust is created by getting to know someone both personally and professionally.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has said: "A lot of people act different on the weekends versus the office. It's like they leave a big part of themselves at home. We encourage our employees to be themselves. We want them to be the same person at home and the office."

2. Let employees explore their passions and express creativity. While we recruit for culture and technical fit for the job, there are many opportunities for employees to also explore their passions and find their calling or purpose at work. For example, one employee who started out in the mail room has a passion for improv comedy. Over the years, she worked her way through the company and combined her interests with corporate training. She's now a senior trainer, teaching classes on public speaking, improv, and team building—combining her passions with her work.

Every quarter, Zappos organizes a four-hour, all-hands company meeting, which is like a high school play mixed with presentations about company updates. At this meeting, employees have an opportunity to showcase their talents on stage, whether playing an instrument, dancing, or singing. It may be perceived as all fun and games, but this production also has a huge team-building component that requires employees from all departments to collaborate and organize.

Another opportunity to explore different interests is through shadow sessions. Our call center's customer loyalty team members can schedule shadow sessions to learn about different areas of the business. They can meet with various team members to get an idea of what a typical day is like in training, merchandising, marketing, technology, or finance. This does a few things, including fostering personal connections, identifying potential talent, and allowing employees to learn and pursue new career paths at Zappos.

3. Empower employees with tools to succeed. Full autonomy in customer-service decisions also increases employee engagement. Zappos' leadership empowers employees to make choices as necessary to serve customers. Regardless of what position they hold, call-center employees are given access to the same tools as managers to live and deliver WOW—in every interaction with our company, whether it is a customer, employee, or vendor, we want them to say "WOW." We always try to go above and beyond. If a customer loyalty team member needs to refund a customer's money, upgrade shipping, make that customer a V.I.P., or send a surprise WOW package of cookies or flowers to brighten a customer's day, they can do it. Empowering employees makes it feasible to scale the business to provide the highest level of service.

4. Provide opportunities for continuous learning and inspire. Zappos' training team, Pipeline, organizes the new-hire training program and develops classes to enhance employee skill sets. The classes have fun names such as "Pimp my Powerpoint" (for anyone who wants to improve Powerpoint skills), "Tighten your Team" (for managers to gather team building ideas), and "How to Write More Better" (for employees to improve their grammar).

Specific topics are taught by various departments. For example, the project-management employees host a class on their department's functions, while the direct online marketing team teaches the basics of Internet marketing. Many of the classes are discussion-based, but learning is also reinforced with activities, games, and participation.

"Pursue Growth and Learning" is another core value. By creating these opportunities, we are able to further inspire employees. Zappos invites thought leaders from backgrounds ranging from personal development, education, community, philanthropy, and happiness to share their ideas at the all-hands company meeting. We try to expose our employees to different kinds of thinking. Many of our guest speakers have previously presented at TED conferences.

5. Allow employees to fulfill their higher purpose. It has became clear that Zappos' higher purpose is to deliver happiness, but it took years to figure this out. In the early days, Zappos was about providing the best selection of shoes online, which later evolved to providing the best possible customer service. After receiving tons of customer feedback, we learned that things such as surprise shipping upgrades and positive customer communication led to amazing shopping experiences. Our contact center does this by building personal emotional connections (what we call "PEC") throughout calls without worrying with time limits or scripts. Customer loyalty team members are encouraged to WOW and make customers happy.

To make customers happy we have to make sure our employees are happy first. We care about our team members. One of the many benefits Zappos provides is an on-site goals/life coach. Employees can sign up to meet with the coach, who will work with them to set a realistic, 30-day personal or professional goal. Setting and achieving smaller goals leads to our employees setting bigger goals. Many Zappos employees have pursued goals such as career advancement, weight reduction, and boosting confidence. A former customer loyalty team member actually left the company to pursue medical school. An employee's journey at Zappos can be transformational, which allows them to discover themselves and their higher purpose in the process.

Since Zappos hires talent whose personal values align with the company's core values, our employees have a genuine interest in helping others. They're inspired to be a part of something bigger than they are, and are able to fulfill their personal higher purpose at work by living out their own values every day. Thus, inspiring employees increases employee engagement.

Mig Pascual is a content developer for Zappos Insights, a part of the Zappos Family of Companies. Its mission is to share the fun and zany culture that is a key part of Zappos, which is best known for delivering WOW service and more recently, delivering happiness. You can read all about Zappos and its focus on company culture in CEO Tony Hsieh's book on the subject, Delivering Happiness. To learn more, visit www.zapposinsights.com.