When United Airlines announced earlier this month that it was replacing its quarterly performance bonuses with a chance for eligible employees to win prizes in a quarterly drawing triggered by reaching certain performance goals, the blowback from employees was swift and fierce, forcing the airline to quickly backtrack on the plan. By swapping out the modest quarterly bonus for a chance of up to $100,000, United President Scott Kirby had hoped to make the bonus program more exciting for employees, but the Kirby and the rest of United’s leadership misjudged how employees would react to what many saw as a cost-cutting measure that would make it harder for most of them to earn bonuses.
What happened at United can serve as a learning opportunity for other CEOs and rewards leaders, underlining the risks the come with using gamification to motivate employees. Workplace games can sometimes be more effective motivators than cash, as “winning” offers a form of social recognition that financial rewards don’t. Employees can write off losing out on a cash bonus as the price of taking it easy at work, but recognition that is visible to one’s co-workers and serves a social function can motivate them in a different way.
Gamified motivation tactics can also be cheaper and more cost-effective than extra cash, the New York Times‘ Noam Scheiber points out, even if the only prize the game offers is a compliment from the boss. United’s mistake was not in introducing a gamified element to their rewards program, per se, but rather in what it took away to make room for it. In other words, the psychological rewards of winning a competition can be motivational when they come on top of regular compensation, but they can’t be a substitute for it:
“Shareholders and management get the monetary rewards, and ‘meaning’ and ‘excitement’ are consolation prizes that go to workers,” said Caitlin Petre, an assistant professor of media studies at Rutgers University who has examined similar practices at media companies. “This is very much in line with my understanding of how the gamification trend in workplaces operates.” …
Several major financial institutions in the UK have submitted their gender pay gap figures to the government in recent weeks in compliance with the law requiring them to do so by April 4. The data illustrate just how far the sector has still to go if it intends to achieve gender parity in earnings and career progression. The most recent bank to release its pay information is HSBC, which on Thursday reported a median pay gap of 29 percent and a mean gap of 59 percent based on hourly pay in 2017, the BBC reports. The bank also a median gap of 61 percent for bonus payments.
HSBC says these discrepancies are due not to pay discrimination, but rather to the underrepresentation of women in its leadership:
HSBC said its pay gap was largely down to the fact it – like its rivals – has fewer women in senior roles, with just 23% of higher positions held by women. Across the whole organisation, however, 54% of its workforce is female. HSBC has a target to try to improve its gender balance and aims to have 30% of senior roles held by women by 2020.
Barclays, meanwhile, revealed a median hourly pay gap of 43.5 percent, the BBC reported last month, greater than all but 28 of the 1,154 companies that had published their data so far. Lloyds Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland reported average gaps of 33 percent and 37 percent, respectively, Bloomberg reported, highlighting that these wide gaps also reflected a dearth of women in senior roles—an imbalance the banks said they were committed to addressing:
The gender pay gap “is not where we want to be,” RBS Chief Executive Officer Ross McEwan, said in a call to reporters Friday. “We need to have more females in senior roles and we set some ambitious targets in the next three years to improve it and that’s what affects the gender pay gap.” Men make up about 70 percent of the employees in RBS highest-paid quartile, mirroring the proportion of women in the bank’s lowest-paid quartile. … Lloyds said Friday that its bonus gender gap was around 65 percent.
That the financial sector suffers from significant gender gap is not new: It’s one of the reasons why London’s overall gender pay gap is higher than any other region of the UK. Common among these firms is the concentration of women in lower-ranking roles with less bonus potential than their mostly male superiors.
United Airlines President Scott Kirby issued a memo to employees last Friday unveiling a new rewards program to replace its quarterly performance bonuses for all eligible employees. Lewis Lazare reports at the Chicago Business Journal that, according to the memo, the “core4 Score Rewards” program would have replaced the company’s operational bonus and perfect attendance programs with a chance for eligible employees to win prizes in a quarterly drawing triggered by the reaching of certain performance goals. Those prizes would have included luxury cars and vacation packages, as well as cash awards from $2,000 to $40,000, and even a $100,000 grand prize for one lucky employee.
Sources within United told Lazare that the memo “quickly ignited a firestorm” among employees. Amid the ensuing backlash, United said on Monday that it was putting the plan on hold, according to CNBC’s Leslie Josephs:
A new union deal in Germany covering some 120,000 Volkswagen workers will give some of them the option of swapping some of their pay for additional time off, CNN Money reports:
Volkswagen said the workers will get a 4.3% pay rise starting in May, and from 2019 an extra 2.3% bonus and more pension benefits. Night shift workers, and those caring for children and elderly relatives, can swap the new bonus for six extra days off. If they do, they’ll be entitled to about 45 paid days off each year, including public holidays.
Volkswagen Group — which also owns the Audi and Porsche brands — employs about 286,000 workers in Germany and 350,000 in other countries. German workers are taking advantage of low unemployment and strong economic growth to flex their muscles at the negotiating table.
The deal between Volkswagen and the IG Metall labor union comes after the first strikes the company had seen since 2004, Reuters adds, and represents a compromise between the union’s demands for a 6 percent raise and the company’s initial offer of 3.5 percent initially and a further 2 percent over 30 months. It also includes a significant boost in the amount of money Volkswagen contributes to employees’ pensions, from 27 euros a month to 90, and then to 98 euros starting in 2020. In exchange for these concessions, Volkswagen secured the right to ask five to ten percent of the workers covered in the agreement to temporarily increase their working hours from 35 to 40 a week.
The tax reform bill passed by the US Congress in December, which drastically lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, has prompted numerous large employers to announce raises, bonuses, or upgrades to their benefits packages as a means of passing on some of their tax savings to their employees. On Wednesday, the restaurant chain Chipotle announced a round of one-time cash bonuses and stock grants, as well as increased parental leave coverage for many employees. On Thursday, CVS said that it would boost hourly employees’ pay from $9 to $11 per hour, among other pay rate increases, and now provide up to four weeks of paid parental leave for full-time employees. Walmart, Starbucks, Disney, Wells Fargo, and other large companies have made similar moves.
What remains unclear, however, is whether these rewards (most of which consist of one-time bonuses rather than permanent wage increases) are sustainable and whether the benefits of the tax cut will redound to the majority of Americans who don’t work for large corporations. Small business owners are reluctant to make similar moves, much as they would like to, until they have a better sense of how much money they will actually save from the tax reform. As the Associated Press’ Joyce Rosenberg pointed out this week, smaller companies have less clarity on that issue than large corporations do, and questions remain as to how new deduction rules will pan out for small business owners. In addition, small and mid-sized businesses have nowhere near the same cash reserves or credit lines as big companies do, which makes the awarding of bonuses and raises a much riskier endeavor.
In an op-ed at the Guardian on Saturday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that her government would take further action this year to rein in what she described as abusive behavior by a minority of British companies that fail to safeguard their employees’ pensions:
In the spring, we will set out new tough new rules for executives who try to line their own pockets by putting their workers’ pensions at risk – an unacceptable abuse that we will end. By this time next year, all listed companies will have to reveal the pay ratio between bosses and workers. Companies will also have to explain how they take into account their employees’ interests at board level, giving unscrupulous employers nowhere to hide.
And, for the first time, businesses will have to demonstrate that they have taken into account the long-term consequences of their decisions. Too often, we’ve seen top executives reaping big bonuses for recklessly putting short-term profit ahead of long-term success. Our best businesses know that is not a responsible way to run a company and those who do so will be forced to explain themselves.
May’s announcement came days after Carillion, the UK’s second-largest construction company, went into compulsory liquidation. The collapse of the company puts as many as 43,000 jobs at risk worldwide, including 19,500 in the UK, and threatens to leave as many as 30,000 subcontractors unpaid. Carillion’s insolvency will also mean delays or disruptions in a number of major public-private partnerships in which the firm is involved.
Previous surveys have predicted that most US employees will receive a small increase in their base pay this year, averaging about 3 percent, though high performers can expect a bit more as organizations shift their compensation strategies toward greater differentiation. That 3 percent raise appears to have become standard in recent years for the average employee, as a 4 or 5 percent annual raise once was.
A new survey of CEOs and CFOs from PwC, however, suggests that raises might be a bit higher than expected this year: The consultancy’s Q4 2017 Trendsetter Barometer report, based on interviews with 300 CEOs and CFOs during the last quarter of 2017, found that these leaders expect to raise wages by an average of 4.27 percent in the coming year, compared to the 3.39 percent figure PwC found in Q3 and just 2 percent a year ago. The last time panelists projected average wages would rise above 4 percent was during the second quarter of 2007, the report notes.
Plans for growth are also on the upswing, with 56 percent of the leaders surveyed saying they intended to hire new employees in the coming year, compared to 49 percent who said so in Q3. PwC attributes these bullish plans for 2018 to higher levels of business confidence and optimism about the future of the US economy, with 79 percent of leaders expressing optimism, a notable increase from 59 percent at the end of 2016.