Would you opt in to this rewards program?

Last week, the president of United Airlines sent a memo to their more than 80,000 employees promising “an exciting new rewards program.” The company was eliminating the quarterly bonuses they paid to employees who hit their performance targets. Instead, those employees would now all be entered into a lottery from which one randomly selected person would win $100,000. A handful of others would get luxury vacations or a new Mercedes.

Next scene:

1. Employees were furious.
2. They started an online petition on an internal company forum that criticized the policy.
3. 72 hours later, United sent a second email announcing that they had “pushed pause” on the program.

Students and parents, how would you have felt to receive that first memo? You earned your way into a group of high performers who did exactly what was asked of them. But now you’ve just learned that you have no control over your reward for your hard work. That reward is now entirely in the hands of others (or in this case, luck). And the rewards are limited to a lucky few, many of whom did not necessarily work harder, perform better, or deserve it more than those other top performers who were not picked.

If you’ve decided that the only acceptable outcome for your hard work in high school is an admission to a highly selective college, you’ve voluntarily entered yourself into a similar rewards program.