Tennis shoe representing Zappos and their Employee Culture

Zappos Proud of Employees First Culture

“Working here is just a lot of fun, which is part of the appeal and how we retain employees,” declares Kelly Maher, Wellness Coordinator for Zappos in Las Vegas. While obviously concerned about the bottom line, the driving force behind this online merchandiser is to:

  • Attract the best possible employees
  • Create a work environment they enjoy coming to every day
  • Encourage everyone to contribute toward making the company successful.

The following core values reflect this commitment and are proudly displayed on each employee badge:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Achieving these goals starts when a prospective employee walks through the door. A stringent screening and orientation process ensures they would be a good fit in the culture. Once hired, workers have a wealth of opportunities to help them excel. Experienced employees often attend classes on how to be a mentor and then make themselves available to someone wanting to learn a new skill.


Workplace Environment

Kelly describes Zappos as very laid back. “There is no dress code. At any given time, you may see someone in business casual attire walking beside a person with tattoos, piercings, a T-shirt, and flip-flops. Guests who come here for the first time wearing a tie are encouraged to let us cut the tie off and staple it to our ever-growing tie wall.”

Employees enjoy a supportive environment:

  • The onsite café and bistro provide a variety of free and subsidized food items. Each floor also offers a snack area stocked with free fruit, yogurt, bread, peanut butter, and jellies. Alternating floors have vending machines. With the exception of energy drinks, all beverages are free. Food items cost 50¢ but all proceeds go to charity.
  • In addition to an onsite fitness center and classes, employees can be reimbursed for participating in community endurance events such as 5Ks, marathons, and triathlons. All they need is a copy of the receipt and proof of finishing. There’s no maximum; in fact, one employee ran over 70 races in 2016.
  • Expecting and new mothers take pre- and postpartum classes; 5 breastfeeding rooms are equipped with hospital-grade pumps.
  • A full-time life coach provides personal development counseling as well as classes on setting short- and long-term goals. The EAP offers a weekly counselor for personal or work-related issues as well as specialist referrals for in-depth assistance. Workers and family members can make up to 5 calls/issue, with no limit on the number of issues.
  • Other programs and services include massage, meditation, conflict resolution, communication, stress management, mindfulness, and mindful eating.
  • Zappos employs a full-time artist who, in addition to conducting painting classes, has decorated the building and grounds with art and murals. Employees can also express themselves on a company chalk wall.
Working here is just a lot of fun, which is part of the appeal and how we retain employees.
Kelly MaherWellness Coordinator, Zappos
Recognition and Fun

In addition to covering all healthcare costs, Zappos goes to great lengths to make staff feel valued:

  • To acknowledge coworkers for a job well done, employees can nominate each other for a $50 bonus when they demonstrate a core value.
  • The Hero program recognizes employees who go above and beyond to help others with a special cape and parade that winds throughout the building, culminating with a photo — plus a special parking spot for an entire quarter.
  • Managers can be nominated for Manager of the Month awards.
  • Wine’d-Down Wednesdays include a yoga class and glass of wine.
  • Birthdays and anniversaries are always a cause for celebration with balloons, cards, and email announcements.
  • Employees can bring their dogs to work after completing an obedience class. The pets even get their own personalized badges.
  • Each year Zappos hosts 3 company parties: for employees and families, for vendors, and a holiday get-together.
Building Teams Through Holacracy

Zappos has a unique organization structure. CEO Tony Hsieh describes it as more like a city and less like a bureaucratic corporation. “In a city, people and businesses are self-organizing. We try to do the same thing by switching from a normal hierarchy to a system called Holacracy, which enables employees to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of reporting to a manager who tells them what to do.”


Kelly explains how that works at Zappos: “The focus is on the work. For instance, if I conducted a fitness class, the team might look at the roles I play within that context. It puts the accountability on me versus a hierarchy. I can’t hide behind a manager. You get recognized for what you do well but also the things you don’t do well. Teams get all the responsibility for the work they do… good or bad.”

Kelly further describes how Holacracy encourages innovation, communication, and creativity: “In this environment, we feel no one knows how to do their job better than the person doing it. So in team meetings, each person has the opportunity to bring up ideas and concerns without interruption. They suggest how to improve a process or problem area. If the team can handle the issue internally, they do so. Otherwise, it’s taken to a higher level. Since one of our core values is to embrace and drive change, this approach can literally alter how we do things in a day.”

Kelly acknowledges that such sudden changes can be challenging. “Everybody deals with change in their own way. Even though people know this is the way we do business, that doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Anytime something new is on the horizon, we try to help employees as much as possible. How we communicate this information to them depends on how big and drastic it may be.”

Every team gets a budget to use for work assignments, lunches, happy hour, or an afternoon of bowling. They can invite other teams and do collaborative activities to build relationships. Recently, Kelly organized a skiing trip. “It was very well received and gave people a chance to meet others outside the workplace. Since people in Las Vegas don’t do a lot of skiing, they got to experience something entirely new.”

Advice on Incentives

When developing program incentives, Kelly recommends caution. “They’re great, but only make a difference for the short term. We went through a period where people were motivated to participate just to see what they could win. We eventually learned to be strategic with our incentives. We created a system that awards points for such positive behaviors as attending classes, going to the gym, hiking, getting appropriate health screenings… the sort of things that would nudge them toward a healthier lifestyle. Right now, we are doing a program for employees with musculoskeletal problems. At the end, we’ll raffle off a mattress.”

However, if Kelly could point to an exception, it would be surveys: “You almost have to offer incentives to get decent participation.”


Kelly reflects on his years at Zappos (since 2012): “Most of our 1500 employees work here at headquarters. The nature of this business is very sedentary, so obesity is a real concern. One event I’m very proud of was our Guns and Buns challenge. We awarded winners who gained the most muscle mass and lost the most body fat. Over 500 people signed up; there was a lot of excitement with banners everywhere. At the end of the competition, we lost 962 pounds of fat and gained over 180 pounds of muscle. One of our athletes just kicked off an inhouse 8-week boxing class. Occasionally Claressa Shields, a 2-time Olympic Gold medalist (recently turned pro) sponsored by Zappos, gives classes on specific techniques. I launched a basic training program for people with little or no experience with exercise. We hope they will gain the knowledge, strength, and endurance to continue with the skills they learn on their own.”


Still Kelly admits it can be difficult to reach those who need help the most. “Communication is a challenge because we have so much going on. Specific events can get lost in the noise. We try to look at the big picture. If a guy tells me he doesn’t like to exercise but enjoys playing Frisbee®, then I encourage him to go for it. Even small successes bring you back to why you are doing this.”


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