United Backtracks, ‘Pressing the Pause Button’ on Bonus Lottery

Mar 5, 2018

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On Friday, United announced to its employees that it would be changing the quarterly bonus structure. Rather than most United employees earning up to $375 per quarter when the airline hit performance metrics, the new plan would enter all qualifying United employees who had perfect attendance that quarter into a lottery. The top prize would be $100,000 with 10 secondary prizes of either $40,000 cash or a Mercedes-Benz C-Class and 1,350 smaller prizes.

While the airline’s management said the “new program will build excitement and a sense of accomplishment,” we crunched the numbers to figure out that this was a move to slash employee bonuses by tens of millions of dollars per year.

And, the backlash was immediate. United employees vented their rage at management in internal United forums. One flight attendant even started a Change.Org petition. The petition received more than 1,100 signatures, but the flight attendant was convinced to shut it down after being “advised by management that having that petition was against our work guidelines and I should take it down.”

After the VP of Human Resources blundered the initial response, it seems that the airline’s management is finally listening to the employee backlash. After receiving nearly 3,000 comments (2,997 as of 2:00pm Eastern), the company is finally “pressing the pause button on these changes.” United sent out the following email to its employees around 1:30pm Eastern on Monday:

Dear United colleagues, 

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

Our intention was to introduce a better, more exciting program, but we misjudged how these changes would be received by many of you.

So, we are pressing the pause button on these changes to review your feedback and consider the right way to move ahead. We will be reaching out to work groups across the company, and the changes we make will better reflect your feedback.


While it took a few days to get there, we applaud United management for listening to its employees. If it hopes to restructure the bonus plan, hopefully management will work with its employees to find an incentive program that’s mutually acceptable.

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