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How Delta turns employee feedback into people-focused action

E.V.P. and Chief People Officer Joanne Smith explains the evolution of Delta’s people-focused culture and the airline’s commitment to continuously improving the employee experience.
Joanne Smith
Joanne Smith
E.V.P. and Chief People Officer

A 20-year veteran of Delta, Joanne Smith is responsible for supporting the airline's unique culture of positive engagement with its more than 80,000 employees. She oversees talent management and development, recruitment, HR service delivery, diversity and inclusion, HR policies and programs.

Joanne's bio

Underpinning Delta’s 95-year history is a culture of service – for our people and our customers – and a spirit of never-ending improvement. It’s ingrained in our DNA. “Keep Climbing” isn’t just a slogan – it’s a call to action.

As leaders, we commit ourselves to high standards when it comes to caring for our people. Humble gratitude is something I carry with me each day in my work as Chief People Officer, just one facet of my dedication to Delta’s core value of servant-leadership.

When we’re recognized by an institution like Forbes as one of the World’s Best Employers for 2022, it’s a meaningful affirmation of the ways we listen – and act – when our people share with us their unique needs and goals. It is also a reminder that our work acting upon the feedback from our employees is an ongoing journey.

Delta ranked No. 6 on Forbes’ list, which was based on independent surveys of roughly 150,000 employees in more than 55 countries around the world. Participants were asked to rate employers according to various topics such as image, trust, gender equality, corporate social responsibility, culture, and benefits. Over 1 million data points were analyzed.

Our people-focused culture includes a profit-sharing model that is fundamental to our business. When the company does well, a portion of those profits are shared with employees each Feb. 14 on Employee Appreciation Day -- Valentine’s Day. We expect 2022 to mark a return to meaningful profitability, and we’re excited for next year’s employee appreciation events.

But profit-sharing is only  part of our story. What I believe makes life at Delta so special is our culture of caring for one another. Our people are actively involved in helping each other, and Delta, to continuously improve. For example, about one-quarter of our employees belong to one of our many business resource groups.

As leaders, it's our job to care for our people and help them be their best – from hire to retirement. Active listening and two-way dialogue are key. At Delta, we focus on forging personal connections between leaders and employees. We do this through regular one-on-ones, station visits and town halls. We use robust listening tools like our employee engagement and wellbeing surveys to gather feedback. And when we listen and act on that feedback in meaningful, tangible ways, we deepen and strengthen those connections.

For 2023, employee feedback is fueling our largest-ever investments in the total wellbeing of our people.

We’ve heard about the challenges of saving for a rainy day amid the rising costs of everyday living, driven by the global pandemic from which we are emerging. And we know that financial wellbeing plays a major role in our overall health and wellbeing. That’s why we’re giving every employee an opportunity to earn $1,000 when they contribute to an emergency savings account and complete a financial education/coaching program.

Delta hired roughly 20,000 new employees in the last year, representing nearly a quarter of our 80,000-strong workforce. We know that everyone comes to us in a different season of their lives, none more important than another, whether they’re expanding their families, preparing to send children to college or caring for aging loved ones – sometimes all the above. New family building, parental leave and caregiving benefits ensure they can bring their whole selves to work without worrying about the ones they care for most.

These benefits are wide-ranging, covering everything from fertility support and surrogacy and adoption assistance to expanded leave options for new parents. In addition to extended paid leave, all new parents can also take up to a year-long leave of absence to bond with newborn or newly adopted children.

Meanwhile, Delta people will not see any increases to medical premiums for the 2023 plan year for a fifth straight year.

Our people are our most worthy investment. We believe in a virtuous circle: When we take the best care of our people, our people will take the best care of our customers -- who will then continue to make Delta their airline of choice.