United Airlines Might Replace Employee Bonuses With a Lottery

March 4, 2018, 10:08 PM UTC

United Airlines is eyeing a plan to end quarterly performance bonuses for its employees, replacing them instead with something a bit more unconventional: a lottery-style drawing, with prizes including cash, cars, and vacations.

According to a report from the Chicago Business Journal, the new program was announced in a memo sent by President Scott Kirby on Friday.

“As we look to continue improving, we took a step back and decided to replace the quarterly operational bonus and perfect attendance programs with an exciting new rewards program called ‘core4 Score Rewards’,” the memo read in part. A United spokesperson told CBJ that the new prize program was intended to “build excitement and a sense of accomplishment.”

According to CBJ, though, excitement was not some employees’ first response. Sources said the announcement had been met with a “firestorm” among employees. That backlash led United Airlines to say Monday that it is “pressing the pause button” on the new program.”

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It’s hard to square the idea of either team or individual accomplishments with the random distribution of incentives. One employee will reportedly receive a $100,000 prize each quarter — again, determined by a drawing whose non-winners won’t receive their prior bonuses. According to Inc., those bonuses have been estimated at between $63 and $7,589. That seems almost certain to breed more resentment than enthusiasm.

The prize program is linked, at least in name, to United’s “Core4” program. That initiative, started by Kirby this year, is meant to encourage staffers to attend closely to customer needs, including by shifting away from rigid policies and towards personal judgment. It followed a disastrous incident in which a passenger was violently dragged from a flight.

In a followup exchange with Inc., another spokesperson said United would be offering other new incentives in addition to the lottery system. The new program also will not affect the airline’s profit-sharing program.