Why Zappos is the Workplace Utopia of the 21st Century

Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh

I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what company you work for, and I don’t care what job you have.  You can’t read “Delivering Happiness”, the new book by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, without asking yourself, “should I try to get a job at Zappos?”  In the book, Hsieh outlines his own personal path, how it led him to create Zappos, and how his application of the principles of positive psychology is making Zappos the workplace utopia of the 21st Century.

Of course, you don’t have to read the book to know that Zappos is a great place to work.  You have probably already learned that from browsing the covers of BusinessWeek, Inc., or Fortune magazines, where Zappos is listed as one of the best companies in the world to work for.  But in Delivering Happiness, Hsieh really takes readers inside the nuts and bolts of Zappos to explain what makes it so special (you can read more about this on my Positive Psychology News Daily blog: “Delivering Happiness: Zappos and Positive Psychology”.)

Without giving away the details from the book (because I think everyone should go read it,) here’s why I think Zappos is the workplace utopia of the 21st century:

1.  It’s not about “work-life balance”.  The whole work-life balance concept implies that work is bad, and life is good.  Zappos tries to merge the two: creating workplace culture values that apply to life outside of work and allowing employees to bring their own personality to their jobs.  Their mission “to live and deliver WOW” transcends their working hours.

2.  Everyone has a voice.  Rather than a traditional employee handbook, Zappos provides all new employees with their culture book, which includes notes from all of the existing employees.  The culture is not handed down from above; it is created by the individuals who make up the workforce.

3.  The customers and the employees are all human.  Hotelier Chip Conley, another business leader who has successfully applied principles of positive psychology to his work, calls this “the most neglected fact in business.” He even spoke about it at last month’s Zappos all-hands meeting (see replay here).  Zappos allows employees and customers to be themselves rather than following pre-defined scripts.  They also encourage social interaction, by forcing employees to identify photos of their co-workers to log into their computers for example. 

4.  They strive to be their best.  Zappos claims their business model is not about selling shoes . . . it’s about being the very best in customer service.  There is something very energizing about striving to be your best in the service of others.  For many years I worked for Four Seasons Hotels which also had the philosophy of being the very best in customer service.  When it came time for me to leave Four Seasons, I didn’t want to leave that drive to be #1.  It took me 5 years of searching to find another company where my passion to be the best was a good fit.

5.  Their mission has meaning.  Question: How do you get thousands of employees excited about selling shoes?  Answer: You don’t.  The Zappos mission is not about selling shoes, it is about “delivering happiness” (hence the name of the book.)  And now, with the launch of ZapposInsights, they are expanding their mission to teach the world a new way of doing business.  One in which employee and customer (both human, remember) love the interaction.

The thoughts above are my own, and not a regurgitation of the ideas that Hsieh shares in his book.  If you want Tony Hsieh’s perspective on why (and how) Zappos has become the workplace utopia of the 21st century, read the book.  You’ll want an extra copy for your boss and maybe a few others for key decision makers in your own organization.  And you might want to brush up your resume . . . in case you decide to apply for a job at Zappos.

Note:  Zappos has generously provided me with an extra advance paperback copy of the book to give away to my readers.  I will be randomly selecting a winner from among the comments on this blog and my Positive Psychology News Daily blog to receive a free copy.  Be sure to comment on both blogs to increase your chances!  Winner will be selected and notified on June 21.  

References and recommended reading:

Hsieh, T. (2010). Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.  New York: Hachette.

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16 Responses to Why Zappos is the Workplace Utopia of the 21st Century

  1. Dan Bowling June 7, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Well done Jeremy. Thanks for bringing this work to your audience. After a long career in corporate America where only a few people realized you could use “work” and “fun” in the same paragraph it is refreshing to hear of leaders who make it a business philosophy. I am working on a book entitled “Happy at Work” which explores some of the same ideas from a theoretical perspective, but to be able to read one from someone who built a business culture around it is a breakthrough.

    OK, did I win the book?

  2. Tim June 7, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    Thanks Jeremy,
    “Delivering Happiness” is definitely going on my want list.
    All the best,
    Tim.

  3. Denis June 8, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    I’d love to learn more about why other companies can’t (or choose not to) embody this kind of business methodology. “Delivering Happiness” definitely looks like it will be an interesting read.

  4. Lisa S. June 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    I love this. Throughout MAPP, I was feeling that the “positive organizations” piece was getting lost, and I don’t believe it gets mentioned at all in Marty’s new book. Positive Organizations are hard to study and replicate in the lab, so maybe difficult for psychologists to study using tried-and-true methods. Yet we can definitely learn a lot from companies like Zappos, Walt Disney, Southwest Airlines and the like that “deliver happiness” and excellent customer service and receive profits and accolades, all while focusing on internal employees as well. Truly the power of AND! (It all comes together, doesn’t it?)

    I’m very encouraged by your post and book review. I would enjoy reading the book, and hearing about other entrepreneurs who are able to take positive parts of the Zappos model and replicate it in other industries and companies. Know of anyone?

    PS – Dan – would LOVE an advance (autographed) copy of your book!!!! 🙂

  5. Marie-Josee Shaar June 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    At last! Making money and making sense in the world are coming together!

    I’ve thought for a long time that the current model – the kind of mentality that recently led bp to cause massive disaster in the name of saving time and hoping to pocket a bit more cash – couldn’t last much longer. Zappos model seems much more sustainable, especially as Gen Y-ers are entering the workforce and management positions.

    Way to go, Zappos!

    MarieJ

  6. Jamie June 10, 2010 at 4:37 am #

    Sounds like a great book to put in my queue just in case I decide to retire from my full-time mommy job – something I fantasize about regularly.

  7. Ryan June 14, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    Great review–inspired me to learn more about Zappos (and yes, check out available openings). I can’t wait to read the book. Thanks!

  8. Leslie Turner June 24, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    That’s funny – several months ago I purchased an $8 pair of shoes at Zappo’s and told my co-workers they were $8 of PURE HAPPINESS! I happen to have them on today and they still make me smile, so it is just a little about the shoes. Zappos mission accomplished. 🙂

  9. Jeremy McCarthy June 24, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Leslie, wow $8 for pure happiness? Sounds like you got a great deal! Thanks for reading!

  10. job September 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    Greetings from NY! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I love the info you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, superb site!

  11. Catherine June 12, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    I am new to the HR field and I was recently talking with our CEO about how to make our small business fun and keep our employees motivated and create a fun culture. He has read ‘Delivering Happiness’ and recommended that I read it. I checked it out from the library and loved it! I think it would be a great read for anyone and have recommended it to friends and co-workers. Tony has done an amazing job, and your right, the book will make you want to apply for the first job available at Zappos.com!

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