Organizational Behavior and Teamwork Term Paper

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Organizational Behavior and Teamwork


Southwest Airlines, Inc. has become an example of notable success. One reason for its significant achievement is its application of Reinforcement Theory to its employees. These applications have resulted in a highly motivated workforce, which is intimately tied to Southwest's success among business leaders. Even so, not even Southwest can satisfy its employees' needs according to Maslow's Hierarchy; rather, Southwest can only give some raw materials for satisfying those needs.

Are Southwest Airlines Inc. leadership and policies fulfilling Maslow's Needs Theory stages?

Abraham Maslow's 5-stage needs theory, developed in the United States during the 1940's and 1950's (Chapman, Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, 2010), includes the following stages: biological and physiological needs; safety needs; belongingness and love needs; esteem needs; and self-actualization (Chapman, Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, 2010). The most basic needs that are basic to survival and are at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy, are biological and physical needs, consisting of items such as food, water and shelter. The next step up the hierarchy focuses on security needs, which include the requirements of stability, freedom from emotional distress and safety. The third step on the hierarchy is belongingness and love, which includes acceptance, friendship and love in the individual's community. The fourth step on the hierarchy is esteem, which includes attaining self-respect and the respect of other people. The highest step in the hierarchy is self-actualization, which includes becoming the best person you can be through using and testing your creativity and achieving your potential (Anonymous, motivation theories, 2012). According to Maslow's theory, which is one of the major content theories of motivation (Anonymous, Motivation and motivation theory study guide and homework help, 2012), the lower needs must be met before the higher needs can be satisfied (Chapman, Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, 2010). It is not always easy to determine whether a person's needs have been met or where a person is on Maslow's hierarchy of needs; consequently, tests such as the quick test (Chapman, Quick self-test based on the adapted 8-stage 'hierarchy of needs', n.d.) given to us in connection with this course are often used to reveal whether and to what extent a person's needs have been met on each step of the hierarchy.

Applying Maslow's hierarchy to Southwest Airlines, Inc., it is unlikely that any employer, including Southwest, can fulfill all the needs on this hierarchy. Certainly, Southwest provides some benefits that could help its 45,000+ employees (Southwest Airlines, n.d.) fulfill at least some of those needs. For example, Southwest has as many as 8 bargaining agreements with its employees' unions and provides stock options for its employees (Kelleher, 2003). In addition, Southwest reportedly strives to give "the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer" (Kelly G., n.d., p. 2). Furthermore, Southwest strives to provide a stable work environment, equal opportunity for growth and learning, and encouragement for creativity and innovation (Kelly G., n.d., p. 4). All-in-all, Southwest considers its employees its greatest asset and the best in the industry (Kelly G.C., 2012). Nevertheless, even with Southwest's exemplary treatment of its employees, Southwest cannot meet its employees': biological and physiological needs because it can provide food, water and shelter on the job but cannot assure that its employees will have all the food, water and shelter they need; safety needs, because Southwest can strive to continually improve the safety and security of its employees on the job but cannot provide all the safety and security needs of its employees; belongingness and love needs, because Southwest can provide a friendly, accepting work environment but it cannot ensure that all its employees will be loved and have friends and acceptance; esteem needs, because Southwest can give some esteem through celebrating its employees but it cannot guarantee self-esteem, which is at least partly an internal process; and self-actualization, because Southwest can encourage creativity and encourage its employees to become the best people they can be but it cannot ensure that all employees in all positions are able to develop all the internal processes for self-actualization.

b. Question 2 - Are the Southwest Airlines Inc. leadership and HRM applying the concept of Reinforcement Theory in order to motivate their employees?

B.F. Skinner, a behaviorist (Anonymous, Motivation and motivation theory study guide and homework help, 2012), helped develop the Reinforcement Theory, which is not concerned with an employee's internal motivations or causes for behavior, focuses on external motivators and what happens to the employee when he/she takes action (, 2012). Business leaders using the Reinforcement Theory, employ several possible methods: positive reinforcement, which consists of giving a positive response when the employee exhibits required and/or positive behavior; negative reinforcement, which consists of rewarding an employee by removing consequences that are negative or undesirable; punishment, which consists of using undesirable consequences for undesirable behavior; extinction, which consists of removing a reward for a behavior in order to lessen or completely eliminate the behavior (, 2012).

Applying these principles to Southwest Airlines, Inc. is somewhat difficult because one must imagine some of the tactics used by Southwest's leadership and its Human Resources Department. Southwest uses positive reinforcement, for example, by "employee recognition programs" for showing hard work and a caring spirit through their actions (Kelly G., n.d., p. 5). Southwest also uses negative reinforcement, for example, through its "employee outreach programs" on environmental issues (Kelly G., n.d., p. 10). In addition, Southwest leadership and Human Resources uses punishment, for example, by suspending an employee or otherwise exerting negative consequences on the employee for unacceptable behavior such as drinking on the job, subpar treatment of customers/other employees. Finally, Southwest leadership and Human Resources uses Extinction, again through "employee outreach programs" to reduce and ideally eliminate employees' ecological footprints (Kelly G., n.d., p. 10). In this ways, Southwest reacts to employees' behaviors in order to encourage behaviors that Southwest's leadership and Human Resources deem positive while discouraging behaviors that Southwest's leadership and Human Resources deem negative.

c. Question 3 - Is there a relationship between the success of Southwest Airlines, in the top of best companies by Fortune for years, and the highly motivated workforce at Southwest Airlines Inc.

There is certainly a connection between the success of Southwest and its highly motivated workforce. As Jeff Bailey shows in Southwest. Way Southwest (Bailey, 2008), Southwest made big changes to its business methods of "raising fares, packing more people onto planes, and abandoning an egalitarian boarding policy for one that lets business travelers board and pick seats first" (Bailey, 2008). By radically changing business methods, Southwest was able to maintain a high level of success. Doing so required the enthusiastic cooperation of its workforce, which Southwest accomplishes by a them-against-us, partying, affectionate, cheap-but-fun, cheerful atmosphere (Bailey, 2008). Consequently, modeled after its "quirky" CEO, Gary Kelly, Southwest succeeds where other, more traditional airlines are either struggling or have completely failed.

3. Conclusion

Southwest Airlines, Inc. has successfully motivated its employees with methods including but not limited to Reinforcement Motivation. By stressing their importance and giving them the raw materials to satisfy some needs, Southwest has succeeded in creating and sustaining a highly motivated workforce that is vitally important to Southwest's own success. Nevertheless, Southwest can essentially supply only raw materials to satisfy its employees' needs according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. As conscientious as Southwest is, no employer -- not even Southwest -- can satisfy needs that involve nonworking life and internal processes of the individual. This should not be seen as a shortcoming on Southwest's part; rather, Southwest should be congratulated for striving to provide many raw materials for satisfying those personal needs.

Works Cited

Anonymous. (2012). Motivation and motivation theory study guide and homework help. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:

Anonymous. (2012). motivation theories. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:

Bailey, J. (2008, February 13). Southwest. Way Southwest. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from

Chapman, A. (2010). Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:

Chapman, A. (n.d.). Quick self-test based on the adapted 8-stage 'hierarchy of needs'. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:

Kelleher, H. (2003, December 22). Herb Kelleher on the record. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:

Kelly, G.C. (2012, March 31). Gary's message - 2011 Southwest Airlines One Report. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:!/garys-message

Kelly, G. (n.d.). Southwest cares. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site: (2012). Reinforcement Theory. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:

Southwest Airlines. (n.d.). People overview - 2011 Southwest Airlines One Report. Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from Web site:!/people/overview

Management 302: MODULE 1 -- SLP ASSIGNMENT

1. Introduction

McGregor's XY Theory examines two employee/managerial situations, with the X Theory representing a more restrictive, uncreative method and the Y Theory representing the more open, creative…[continue]

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