Wholefoods: The Model Of Involvement

27 August 2014 / by Ashley Freeman

How would you feel waking up in the same room as your boss? Brushing your teeth together? Sharing breakfast?

Weird, right?

Well, it’s a little unorthodox, but the Wholefoods approach to employee engagement is having a huge impact on their company culture – and their bottom line.


Company Sleepovers?


“I know this sounds weird, but there’s something about sleeping in the same house and then fixing breakfast or dinner together that is very much a bonding experience”

John Mackey

For Wholefoods Chief Executive and founder John Mackey, escaping the constraints of the office and spending time with colleagues in a more personal setting is the best way to build up a trusting relationship. He believes that it allows workers to connect on a deeper level, and become more involved.


“His approach stresses the importance of emotionally involved leadership and creating a culture that allows workers to flourish.”


Mackey’s main goal is to make a job with Wholefoods mean more than just a payslip. His aim is to foster a team who feel like they matter. That’s why Wholefoods are currently ranked 44th in Fortune magazine’s 100 best companies to work for.


Wholefoods – How They Get It Right


Founded in 1980 from just one store, Wholefoods now has 80,000 staff across 373 shops in the USA, Canada and the UK. In 2013, they reported the best sales in the company’s history, with a sales increase of 12%, to £7.8 billion.

So as barmy as you might think their engagement strategies sound, they are clearly working!

Wholefoods emphasise a strategy of “caring leadership” from the top down. Team members are nurtured and developed and leadership make a conscious effort not to promote “jerks.” New employees start their life at Wholefoods on a two-month probationary period, and only when they achieve a 66% approval rate among their colleagues by secret ballot can they be kept on permanently.

This approach to development and recruitment ensures that all permanent team members fit with the company culture, and are on message with the values and goals of the company.

Wholefoods have engineered a model example of a decentralised leadership structure, and of encouraging employees to self-manage. Pay is egalitarian, and no one earns more than 19 times the average pay of a full-time worker. All meetings are ended with “appreciations” – expressions of gratitude for specific contributions staff members have made to the firm.

These initiatives have had a revolutionary impact on staff relations, and have created a more dynamic and involved workforce.

If you want to know more about the Wholefoods culture from the chief executives, watch this video. Or to find out how we could help you get your workforce more involved, please just give us a call.