Disclaimer: This is in Europe. After organizing event described below, managers (including mine) were asked to provide feedback on how to deal with the situation. We were in turn asked by our manager to provide ideas, and so this post is created.

We have an in-company social fund. There was some money left over from previous year, so the new DoO decided to use it for rewards for employees. The criteria chosen were to reward people who have, I think it's called, good work ethic (don't be late, keep your work-space clean, be polite to your co-workers, don't lie, etc.) After compiling a list of people that would fit those criteria, it was noticed that there is just under a hundred people that would be a good candidate - and the problem arises here, since that's more than they anticipated. If they split the money they had among so many people, they would basically get "spare change". Tightening the criteria was also not an option, since how do you measure, for example, if Bob is 2% more polite than Jane?

So the chosen solution was to simply draw 10 random names from the list, and if the idea caught on, just keep doing it, making sure everybody gets their chance (so if you won it now, you would have 2nd priority in the next draw, to first reward people who have won nothing yet).

However, some time after this, on a monthly meeting of highest management with employees, the following happened: employees may ask any question during those meetings, and if someone is shy, he can write it anonymously on a piece of paper and it will be read and answered. Over 60% of this meetings questions was basically boiling down to "it's unfair that not all who met the criteria won something". The management tried to explain that if they simply divided the money everybody would feel they got said spare change, and this was only a test run, which, if it catches on, will mean greater part of the funds dedicated to this cause. More and more employees however stated that it's unfair still and everybody should get something.

The end result is that the management agreed to pay whatever money people from the list would get extra by splitting the original amount on the next paycheck, and reconsider the implementation of the idea (which I think everybody knows is "probably scrap it, we're paying money to make people disgruntled").

So the question is: Is there some way to salvage this situation? Is it best to just forget about it and move on?

  • "We were in turn asked by our manager to provide ideas" Hah. The non-managing manager. But questions-by-proxy are hard to answer, especially if you're asking two distinct questions that have some rather different answers. You may want to focus on your last question since the former can be answered simply with "don't do something this idiotic". – Lilienthal Mar 9 '18 at 9:25
  • Ok, i'll edit to focus on last question, since I think you correctly state that this is main question here. – Yuropoor Mar 9 '18 at 9:29
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    "We have an in-company social fund" What is the exact nature and purpose of this fund? How is this funded? What is it usually used for? – Polygnome Mar 9 '18 at 10:12
  • @Polygnome It's a sum of money set aside for things like company paid leisure events, sending gifts before christmas, helping people who had some tragedy befall them (a flood destroyed their house or something). Things like that. – Yuropoor Mar 9 '18 at 10:16
  • @Yuropoor I've adjusted the title but am still not that happy with it. You may also want to edit your main post more aggressively to boil it down to essentials. – Lilienthal Mar 9 '18 at 12:45

Let me say upfront that I'm answering this as if I were addressing the management team. The very notion of your manager farming a management decision on this scale out to you is nonsensical and absurd. Whether you can bring (parts of) the message I give below to your manager as "ideas" depends heavily on how good he is at dealing with critical feedback and whether he really wanted actual ideas in the first place or not. Frankly, I doubt it's a message he would want to hear considering he's failing to manage already. Needless to say, don't include the bullet point list of screwups that I have here

Let's summarise: you screwed up. Big time.

  • You took money from a social fund and turned it into a kind of performance-related bonus.
    • That's not what the money is for, and
    • you've destroyed any sense of credibility that your existing bonus or evauation system might have had
  • You launched an idea for this bonus payout without thinking it through, which backfired for predictable reasons. You then backpaddled and changed the payout strategy in a very non-transparent manner, with predictable results.
  • Instead of recognising your mistake you tried to rationalise it away
  • You tried to fix it by doing exactly what you said you didn't want to do (hand out pennies), knowing that it wouldn't work anyway (!)

All in all there's a shocking degree of mismanagement here. A mess of these proportions is what the term design by committee was invented for. So with that out of the way, what should you do now? It's fairly simple: recognise the mistake and apologise. It's time for a mail from the management to the entire company to address the topic. If you let it fester it will only erode morale even further.

The main things to address are that you:

  • realise you handled the situation poorly
  • regret that people felt slighted
  • specify what you're doing to redress the situation

Frankly at this point I would suggest organising more than a token effort to give these people something, whether it's a box of chocolates or a 10-50$ gift card. Something that's at least tangible. It's probably going to cost you a bit or even significantly more than the money your originally had but you shouldn't underestimate the morale cost if you don't do something.

An honest mea culpa is called for here and you also shouldn't underestimate the value of honestly and straightforwardly recognising a mistake.

For the record, the correct approach would have been to do something more constructive with that left-over money. And if you concluded too late that you had too many people worthy of recognition you would either free up budget to resolve that or figure out a cheaper way to recognise those people, for instance at the next company event with things like special badges or lanyards, some cheap token, a public scrolling photo wall, etc.

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    The manager I'm reporting to is in no way connected to the event, the "feedback chain" was passed down onto him from the higher management, so I can present any ideas to him, and he will choose what to disclose or not to his superiors. Very good answer. – Yuropoor Mar 9 '18 at 17:15

I think it's unfair to be using SOCIAL FUND money for what are effectively performance related bonuses. The Social Fund money should be used for Social activities only, not other stuff.

So next time there's a social event, use the excess to subsidise the cost to those who take part, for example the company could buy the first round of drinks, or if a coach is needed then to pay part of the coach cost so that those who go would pay less for that part of it. Or provide sponsorships so that those who wouldn't normally go along due to lack of funds would be able to take part.

  • The problem with that I believe was, that the leftover money must have been used NOW, or it would be gone (of course next year allotment would still be here). So I guess that's why it was used that way. – Yuropoor Mar 9 '18 at 10:17
  • @Yuropoor maybe edit your question and add this piece of information there. – Arsak Mar 9 '18 at 11:37
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    Donate the money to charity. Don't use a lottery for rewarding bonuses. People who are on the list find this is not fair, people who are not on the list might find it unfair they are not on the list ... you will have a company with 1% (?) happy employers ... – pistach Mar 9 '18 at 14:18
  • What has essentially happened here is that the employer has dipped into the pot of money set aside for morale-boosting exercises and used it to subsidise the salary budget. That seems out of line. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Mar 12 '18 at 15:00

Two important aspects.

One thing is, the social fund should be used what it's meant for. You could approach it by offering different options and let the people vote for one.

The other thing is a bit more difficult. If you are using a distribution to reward people based on a very subjective criteria, in the same moment everyone who doesn't get rewarded feels blamed and maybe feels to be treated not fair. For example, if you got 2 workers and in a meeting you tell one of them he did a really good job, the other one automaticly "hears": "Bob you did a great job [but Alice, you didn't do well]". What i wanna say is if you praise some people, you always dispraise others. This is really bad for the company culture. A possible approach would be to split the money to all (even it's a small sum for everyone in return).

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