Ten ways Zappos.com creates happy employees

By Bryan Pearson

Getting a job at Zappos.com today is more than a dream for many; it is a one in a 100-person opportunity.

Those are basically the odds of landing a position at what is one of the most popular retailers today. Last year, Zappos’ took 25,000 applications for 250 job openings. This year it expects to take 30,000 applications for 300 openings.

Such numbers are the result of a simple but pure philosophy, of founder Tony Hsieh, to create a company he not only is happy to come to every day, but that he loves. This is why Zappos made Fortune Magazine’s list of Best Places to Work in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I was able to tour the Zappos’ headquarters and call center. Among the many things I learned, I saw that at Zappos, customer intimacy begins with employee loyalty. So while I recently listed the 10 loyalty lessons I picked up at Zappos, today I will follow up with the 10 ways Zappos engages its 1,400 employees – 650 of whom work in its call center.

1: Extensive training


Every Zappos employee, regardless of department, goes through four weeks of on-board training across various departments, including the call center. And because each Zappos employee is trained on the phones, the company does not need to bring in extra labor during peak holiday periods. Instead, all employees voluntarily take customer calls for 10 hours.

2: The offer


Tony Hsieh wants all of his workers to be a good fit. So in the third week of training, each trainee gets “the offer” to leave Zappos (the offer varies from a few hundred to a thousand dollars). If the employee does not feel Zappos is a good fit, he or she can take the money and leave, no hard feelings, no questions asked.

3: Let your hair down


For creative employees, Zappos encourages personal expression in many ways. Workstations are marked with overhead license plates that carry the worker’s name and hire date. Employees decorate the conference rooms, and they take frustrations out on Bob, the mannequin punching bag. Where’s the boss? Hsieh’s desk is on Monkey Row, covered in jungle vines.

4: Good eats


No one goes hungry at Zappos. Lunches are served free every day, including drinks, sandwiches, soups and salads (a hot lunch will cost $3). Need a snack? Cookies, candy bars and ice cream also are free and plentiful, almost like a convenience store with its doors wide open. The one discretionary item employees have to pay for is Red Bull.

5: A life coach


Inside Zappos, life and work mesh together, so the company employs a full-time life coach to consult workers on business and personal issues. Classes of 20 participate in goal-setting programs, and upon graduation they write their achieved goals in a special hall of fame. The success rate is 98.2 percent.

6: Recognition


Zappos has a Desk of Epic Glory — need we say more? In addition to this desk for outstanding employees, the company provides a throne for life coach graduates, and a monthly company parade to honor employee “Heroes.” For those who prefer tangible recognition, there’s the Zollar Store, where employees redeem Zollars earned through goal achievement.

7: Trust


One of the few goals at Zappos call center is to answer 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds. After that, the clock is off. The company trusts its employees to spend as much time as necessary to achieve the best outcome. Call times and productivity are tracked, but there are no requirements, which can mean some long call times — the longest was 8.5 hours.

8: Empowerment


Every employee at Zappos’ is provided the tools and mentorship to become a senior leader in five to seven years. But it is up to them to get there. Workers are free to make career-defining customer decisions, even if that choice is to send free shoes or make personal greeting cards.

9: Well-being and Balance


At Zappos, employees are almost required to feel good, whether that means catching 40 winks in the nap room or getting work done while sitting on an exercise ball. All workstations are ergonomically designed for employees — regardless of if they stand, perch on a ball or sit on the floor. Zappos also is experimenting with a work-at-home program.

10: The Culture


Culture is the big attraction, and Zappos works hard to foster it. A group of volunteers, called the Culture Club, actually develops cost-free ideas to improve the company culture. The Wishez Wall, for instance, encourages employees to post wishes (a math tutor, a sewing table) and others fulfill them. Each year, these activities are commemorated in an annual Culture Book.

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