United Airlines Lottery Gamble Loss

Candice eetimesManagement at United Airlines is backtracking on their idea of replacing earned individual bonuses with lottery tickets.  They seemed to have been caught completely by surprise that employees aren’t thrilled with the idea of replacing earned income with a very small chance at winning a larger amount.

If they had just talked to me, I could have told them this would happen.

Several decades ago, at a fast growing start-up company I joined, they had a “Suggestion Box” system that generated a slow but useful number of suggestions.  The payoff for those suggestions that were accepted and implemented was an atta’boy/girl from the management of the group that had been the beneficiary.  Although it worked, Human Resources didn’t think that enough suggestions were being made.  So they came up with the idea that they needed to provide a real incentive to make suggestions.  In this case, they would have a drawing each month… each suggestion equaled one lottery ticket for the drawing.  Sounds like a great idea huh?

Well, it backfired.  As one would expect, the average quality of the suggestions dropped precipitously.  But what really surprised HR was that the number of suggestions also dropped.  This totally surprised them.

It turns out that people who are hard workers, innovators, conscientious people, like you find in a successful company, have certain ethical codes.  They believe that work should be rewarded fairly, not capriciously.  It also turned out that many of the folks who had been participating in the Suggestion Box had religious and ethical codes that precluded them from participating in ANY form of gambling.  Combined, those who had previously enjoyed the positive reward of knowing that they were simply doing a good turn and maybe would get recognized for having a good idea were put off by the crassness or moral repugnance of a lottery and so no longer felt any incentive to make suggestions for improvements.

Lessons for employers?  Know your staff… and maybe… just maybe… think about the message that you are sending to employees when you tell them that being lucky is more likely to be rewarded than actual consistent performance.

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