Instead they planned to replace this with a lottery system that includes quarterly prize drawings, ranging “from $2,000 to $40,000, luxury cars, vacation packages, and a grand of prize of $100,000 awarded to one eligible employee per quarter.” This drawing would happen each quarter as long as United reached at least one of their performance goals.
This was clearly a cost saving measure on United’s part, when you consider that they have 88,000 employees. United’s president spun this change as a positive, suggesting that this was an “exciting new rewards program,” and a United spokesperson said that they believed this “new program will build excitement and a sense of accomplishment as we continue to set all-time operational records that result in an experience that our customers value.”
On top of that, this new program was out of touch. If someone makes $10 per hour and wins a “luxury car,” how are they supposed to pay the taxes, insurance, and maintenance on it?
United employees were livid, partly because they were having a consistent bonus taken away, and partly because management was trying to spin this as a positive. It’s one thing if United were struggling and they needed to cut back, but what this really boiled down to is United management saying “hey, we’re doing as well as we ever have, we’re so proud of you, and to reward you we’re going to cut your bonuses.”
This story went surprisingly viral in the mainstream media. I’m not sure exactly why, since it seems no different than any of the other garbage that big companies in the US try to pull on a daily basis. This forced United to reconsider. United said that they’d be “pressing the pause button” on the program. To me that doesn’t mean that they’re reverting to the old program, but rather they’re going to come up with a friendlier way to market this negative change.
The original communication was from United’s president, Scott Kirby, who performs best when working on spreadsheets, and not with people. Meanwhile United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, is an employee favorite.
Munoz is probably the most loved CEO we’ve seen at one of the “big three” US airlines in a long time, though the more we’ve seen his performance, the more it seems like there’s not much substance to him, and he’s mainly there just to cheerlead employees. Maybe that’s what a US airline needs, though, since most of the United employees I’ve spoken to love the guy, which is rarely the case (at least that was the case shortly after he was appointed).
It’s not surprising that the negative communication was from Kirby, since they didn’t want employees to turn on Munoz. Now Munoz has stepped in a little, and they’ve sent follow-up communication to employees with the headline “a message from Oscar and Scott: Quarterly Operations Incentive Program.” I’m guessing the message is still from Kirby, and they’re just trying to make employees hate the content of the message a little bit less.
Here’s what the note to employees says:
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 operations incentive program as in the past, which you can find on Flying Together.
As you can see, United is maintaining the same incentive program for the first quarter, but beyond that they are creating a new program. What’s noteworthy (and not at all surprising) is that United hasn’t once addressed why they’re introducing a new program. It’s clearly a cost cutting measure, though instead they’ve suggested it will build excitement, which it clearly won’t.
I’ll be very interested to see what United’s second version of this program looks like, now that everyone is watching…