What was United thinking?

united-airlines-denver-london.jpgOn 2nd March 2018, United Airlines President Scott Kirby attempted to spice up the life of his employees. The organization decided to get a little creative with their rewards system and messed with employee bonuses. In case you haven’t heard (which would be surprising given the stir it has created), the scheme was this – you take away the performance incentive program that awarded workers up to $375 for each quarter that the airline met operational goals. You replace it with an all-new exciting lottery program that rewarded a few workers at random. The eligible population for the lottery would be employees who have a perfect attendance record for that quarter. These employees would be entered into a lottery system that doled out big prizes, including $100,000 cash and a Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan. Other prizes included Mercedes sedans (10 winners), a choice between a vacation package or $20,000 (20 winners), a similar choice at the $10,000 level (30 winners) and a variety of other cash prizes. 1000 workers would also get the chance to win $2,000 cash. In short, 1361 employees would receive some kind of bonus and United Airlines has over 80,000 employees.

Not surprisingly, United faced tremendous backlash and quickly, within three days withdrew the scheme promising to come up with another post soliciting inputs from all levels in the organization. My head is bursting with innumerable questions on how this happened. What was the objective of this seemingly silly scheme? Did the person behind this idea want to (a) cut costs (it did save them money), (b) add a little spice to life or (c) innovate for the sake of innovating? This is when the HR in me is screaming to their HR team asking what they were thinking? Surely, it couldn’t be one person who did it all? There must be at least a dozen people in the room nodding and signing off on this scheme. What were they thinking?

Just so many things here scream – ‘crazy’ and the last thing United needed was to be in news again for something crazy. If you need a list on why this wasn’t a wise move, this piece will help. You know what they should have done instead? Added the lottery on top of the bonuses. If that was too costly, then they should have just installed a non-monetary, frustration-free recognition system like most organization do. But honestly, I can’t provide a solution until I figure the objective and the objective is really not clear at all.

What do you think?


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