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Can You Nudge Your Employees to Advance Social Progress? Facebook Thinks So

Employee bonuses are a mainstay in America’s corporate landscape. In many cases, decision-makers believe their bonus programs encourage employees to behave in ways more closely aligned to the company’s mission and core values.

This thinking feels like common sense in today’s tight talent market. In a competitive labor market, job seekers can afford to be pickier about where they work. And, they increasingly choose to align themselves with companies whose values are a match with their own personal values. All in all, it’s a smart move for organizations to articulate their core values and align their compensation philosophy and strategy with those values.

Facebook is one company that understands this idea. Last month, the social network giant added a new component to their employee bonus program: it will now pay employees a bonus based on the company’s ability to advance social progress.


Photo by Tim Bennett on Unsplash

The social network giant has an existing employee bonus program. According to an article from Fortune, Facebook’s employee bonus formula includes measurable factors such as user growth, increased sharing by users and improvements in product quality.

This new focus on advancing social progress — which is a more nebulous concept — is at least partly driven by leadership’s desire to incentivize workers to prioritize safety and security on the platform. In the recent months, the social networking giant has been under increasing pressure from consumers, advocacy groups and regulators to put an end to illicit content (including misinformation and hate speech) and data breaches on its site.

Will the updated bonus program help Facebook do more social good?

We’ll have to wait and see. Designing an effective incentive program is no easy feat. For a bonus program to move the dial on a desired outcome, the stakes have to be high enough, the goals clear enough and the program must be carefully designed to avoid unintended consequences. Anyone remember when Wells Fargo employees were discovered opening fake new accounts?

Some believe Facebook will have a hard time quantifying the idea of social progress. Reporter Casey Newton at The Verge falls into this camp. He wrote:

“One of Facebook’s key challenges is that it’s simultaneously working on hard problems across so many dimensions… Fighting information operations doesn’t resolve down neatly to a handful of metrics that you can nudge up or down over time. It’s impossible for me to identify the goal posts that, if Facebook could only kick the ball through, would lead most of its critics to agree that the platform had been ‘fixed’.”

How much money is at stake for each employees?

Facebook’s bonus structure has four components, according to company filings: It’s comprised of eligible earnings, bonus target, individual performance and company performance. Social progress falls under company performance.

Based on calculations done by Casey Newton, “In the case of a worker making $150,000, who meets expectations in a quarter where the company also meets expectations, the bonus might be $22,500.”

But, how much of difference in company performance will be explained by social progress?

This answer will be difficult to calculate. According to a spokesperson at Facebook to whom Casey spoke, the company performance is based on how well Facebook achieves four different goals.

  • Make progress on the major social issues facing the internet and the company
  • Build new experiences that meaningfully improve people’s lives
  • Keep building the business by supporting the businesses that rely on its services to grow
  • Communicate more transparently about what they’re doing

These goals are quite broad, so it’s unclear what scores employees would get in any given scenario. Newton talked to multiple former employees to get their take on Facebook’s new bonus formula: Some said the change for Facebook seemed meaningful. Others disagreed.

According to the company, Facebook’s compensation and governance committee will determine how much weight would be assigned each of the new individual factor in the bonus formula.

We’ll be watching to see whether this new bonus changes the course of Facebook for the better over time. At the very least, it’s good see a household brand publicly talking about social progress and putting some money where its mouth is.

If you want more guidance on how to build an incentive program that maximizes your chances of success and minimizes unintended consequences, check out these resources:

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What sort of bonus programs do you provide at your organization? How do you measure their efficacy? Share with us in the comments below or on Twitter.

Banner photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

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