After a unanimously negative reaction to the replacement of a popular bonus program with a lottery that would leave most employees with nothing, United is promising to listen to employees…before making changes. But WHY are changes needed?
The reaction was swift and fierce. When news surfaced last week of Scott Kirby’s plan to replace $300 quarterly bonuses with a “prosperity gospel” lottery scheme, employees pushed back hard.
And to United’s credit, Kirby issued a mea culpa (of sorts) and suspended any immediate changes to the bonus program.
Yesterday, we finally heard from United CEO Oscar Munoz, who sent this brief note to Untied employees (signed by both Munoz and Kirby):
Dear United team,
Following Scott’s note on Monday, both of us wanted to provide an update about our quarterly operations incentive program. As we said, we are going to take some time to reconsider our program and gather additional input.
Next week we will begin a series of listening sessions across the system with you and our leaders in order to get feedback and ideas as we structure a new program – one that has confidence across the company, makes people excited to come to work and deliver their best performance and sets the entire United family up for success.
In the meantime, the first quarter is coming to an end, and we know there are many questions about what we will do in the near term. So for the first quarter of 2018, we will maintain the same criteria for the quarterly operations incentive program as in the past.
We will introduce our new plan as soon as possible but will take the time to make sure that we get this right and move forward as a United team.
Why the Change?
In stating its goal, Munoz points out the reason for the change in the bonus program:
A new program … that has confidence across the company, makes people excited to come to work and deliver their best performance and sets the entire United family up for success.
But here’s an honest question: how can any cutback, even if the bonus was just reduced by $50/month, make people more excited to come to work? Weren’t workers already happy?
I asked United why. Why the change? Is this a cost-cutting measure? A spokesperson told me:
The goal is to create a program that makes people excited to come to work and meet our goals.
“Meet our goals”…that leaves us with quite bit of room for interpretation. The question still remains whether the highest goal is saving money or making people excited come to work. Unfortunately, I see the two as mutually exclusive.
Would it not be a brilliant Machiavellian move if United rolled out a bonus incentive program even more rewarding than the current system? Perhaps keeping the current bonus system AND adding a lottery? Would that give Munoz unprecedented support…perhaps to institute other more draconian changes later on?
I doubt that will happen. My guess is we will see a hybrid, with the guaranteed $300 halved or reduced in some other way.
But for now we can wait…and hold Munoz and Kirby accountable to their promise to “create a program that makes people excited to come to work”.