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Employee Benefits

United Airlines' Bonus Lottery Was Doomed to Fail. Don't Make the Same Mistake With Your Team.

Your employees don't want rewards -- they want respect.
United Airlines' Bonus Lottery Was Doomed to Fail. Don't Make the Same Mistake With Your Team.
Image credit: Andrew Harrer | Getty Images
Guest Writer
4 min read

A few days ago, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby announced a new incentive program that would eliminate the company's bonus structure and replace it with a lottery,  where one lucky employee would win $100,000 and a handful of others would have a shot at a Mercedes or a vacation. Immediately, legacy employees went on the record voicing concerns, with one union leader stating that "no team-oriented reward should be dictated by lottery."

Related: How to Incorporate This One Employee Perk to Improve Your Business

Unfortunately, I wasn't shocked by this news, because I've seen this trend become increasingly popular with the companies I've worked with and for. For whatever reason, employers have decided that employees care more about games and having toys at work than getting more money for doing great work. Just a few days later, United determined that its plan was a bust and Kirby recgonized that he misjudged how this news would be received by employees. 

In the next few years, I believe there will be a continued backlash against open offices, toys and useless perks enticing potential and current employees. Having a shot at a ton of money in a lottery is fun, but it's not helpful if you don't have a clear career trajectory, aren't paid well, don't know when or how you'll be rewarded, and don't feel valued at work.

I recently talked to a few of my friends I grew up with who complained about feeling like their cool and exciting tech jobs weren't fulfilling in ways that they had hoped. They couldn't understand why their company was focusing more on giving away expensive swag than giving away raises and opportunity. I also had another friend tell me over the holidays, "I got a really cool Christmas present from my boss, but I don't really understand what my future holds at this company. I've asked and it's still very unclear." In this case, a gift was given instead of the necessary clarity to keep an employee engaged.

Related: 3 Signs That Job Candidates May Eventually Abuse Your Company's Employee Benefits

If you want your company to scale and you want to be able to hire and keep any employees under 35, focus less on perks, rewards and entitlements and more on how to show respect to your employees. Respect comes in many forms and may be different for your employees based on your industry. For me, respect comes in the form of thoughtful feedback, professional development, mentorship, clear and scheduled opportunities for growth, and competitive compensation. I get more questions from young people I manage about understanding what is next for them than anything else. By creating a clear path to more opportunity, you will get more loyalty from your employees.

Gone are the days of doing work well, making a company more money, and sticking around in the hopes of maybe getting a raise or promotion down the road. Companies don't provide the same loyalty that they used to, and employees don't need to either. One of my past coworkers left her job at Google because she felt that all of the perks were just there to keep her at work longer. She took a pay cut and moved to a much less prestigious company because she wanted respect outside of her working hours. It's important to give your employees options to take a break at work, but treating your employees like the adults they are will only help your company and increase loyalty.

Related: 5 Reasons Enhanced Benefits Programs Are Good for Business

If you want to know what your employers need or want, try asking them what they'd change about the culture of your workplace. I doubt the answer will be, "We need a Ping-Pong table" or, "I'd love to have my name picked out of a hat for a bonus" but instead, "I don't understand what I need to do to get promoted or a raise," "I'd love to be able to attend a conference to learn more about our industry" or, "I would love a mentor who could help guide me."

If your employees want to play the lottery, they have that option outside of work. Adults don't want to play games at work, and United Arilines found that out the hard way. We don't need toys; we want job satisfaction. And most importantly, employees want predictability.

With Today's Changing Workforce Demographic, Companies That Want to Succeed Would Do Well to Offer This Employee Benefit