United Airlines backs down on plan to replace employee bonuses with 'lottery'


United Airlines on Monday suspended plans to award quarterly bonuses through a new lottery system after backlash from employees over the weekend.

United Airlines is rethinking a plan to replace its modest monthly bonuses with a lottery system that would have offered large rewards to a few workers at random. With this move, there's no doubt management has succeeded in achieving a united voice with all employees, but that voice is entirely opposed to and offended by this new "select" bonus program.

The Chicago-based carrier on Friday said it would axe its program of giving quarterly bonuses to those qualified to receive them in favor of a lottery-style drawing, according to the Chicago Business Journal. Of roughly 500 comments I read, four were positive (and three of those were from the company's vice president for human resources, responding to the negative comments).

According to a report at Business Insider, which has seen the memo announcing the program, the maximum number of employees who will receive a bonus payout during a quarter will be 1,351, of which 73% will receive a $2,000 cash prize. The bonuses were given to United's 24,000 flight attendants, its pilots and gate agents, and others, she said.

In Inc.'s report published on Sunday, comments posted on United's internal employee website, Flying Together, highlighted the disdain workers felt towards the airline's decision. However, only the winners of the lottery would get the prize, apparently leaving the remaining employees who have worked hard without any performance benefits. "While we were surprised by some of the components of the program, there is no part of the reaction by flight attendants and other employees that surprises us". It took so many years for people to feel good about what was happening.

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The rewards program also drew ire in more public social-media forms, with some taking to Twitter to question the logic behind it.

"Since announcing our planned changes to the quarterly operations incentive program, we have listened carefully to the feedback and concerns you've expressed", Kirby wrote.

Scott Kirby, president of the Chicago-based airline, said United was "pressing the pause button" on changes that would have handed out much larger bonuses - including vacations and luxury cars - but to only a fraction of its workers.

Kirby said the airline would reach out to employee work groups and changes made would "better reflect your feedback".

Though internal programs should support your organization's mission statement, vision and goals, this crisis can stand as a lesson for communicators to consider employee needs when implementing a program-not just numbers.