Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It was the gift that kept on taking.

The United Airlines bonus scheme that wasn't much of a bonus for the majority of United Airlines employees came in for painful criticism last weekend.

The employees were aghast and sickened at the way the airline thought it could divide, conquer, and save oodles of money by taking away their guaranteed performance and attendance bonus and replacing it with a lottery.

The manner in which the airline's president, Scott Kirby, launched the scheme was a touch laughable. 

Somehow, he believed the employees would be so very excited to win a Mercedes C-Class car and show it off.

The truth, however, was that the employees took to the airline's internal communication system to berate the stultifying inequity of a manifest attempt at cost-cutting.

One said they'd feel guilty if they won an award at the expense of their co-workers.

A flight attendant told me that some of his colleagues believed this was a sneaky way to get senior -- and therefore expensive -- employees to get angry and quit. 

Somehow, this all seems to have gotten through to Kirby.

Today, he sent this letter to employees.

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.



Yes, it seems that United's management didn't quite appreciate how its scheme would be received.

Which is odd, given that most people would surely say, if offered a lottery ticket in exchange for their $1,200 a year bonus being taken away: "No, thank you very much."

I asked some United Airlines' employees for their reaction.

Some lamented that Kirby is very different from CEO Oscar Muñoz, who, they believe, has the right intentions at heart.

My favorite response was this: "In a way, Scott Kirby reminds me of Tom Cruise. You know, he drank the Scientology Kool-Aid and wants everyone to know how awesome it is. So he talks about in an intense and deranged fashion. Not sure what flavor of Kool-Aid Kirby is drinking, but he's got that same vibe."

Sometimes, it's best not to listen to your own ego and to consult with your staff before you decide to take their bonuses away.

But, as I was rightly warned by a Flight Attendant: "He's not letting go of the concept. But today we celebrate."

Published on: Mar 5, 2018
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