What if companies used a Premier League relegation concept on salaries?

Salary Relegation As An Idea

Hola. My name’s Ted Bauer. ‘Tis my blog. I write a lot about organizational behavior, leadership, management, marketing, the future of work, and other assorted topics. Recently I’ve been thinking that it’s pretty cool that random people may stumble across this post through social media, through Google, whatever — and because I feel like I have a really specific way that I look at topics (not necessarily a good one), I’d love to connect. So if you found this post and found it interesting, get at me: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, carrier pigeon, whatever. I’d love to talk about ideas and your thoughts with you. I’m all about blogging for connection right now. 

I don’t follow European soccer as closely as I should, or as closely as my friends do – but I am aware of the Premier League concept of “relegation,” whereby some teams fall to a lower-tier league each year based on performance. I’m sure there are numerous pros/cons to the model, as there are to what I’m about to discuss, but … on surface, it seems like not a half-bad idea. You keep the most quality teams at the highest level of sport, right? And teams that are kind of falling on hard times? They move down a peg. I almost wish college football would operate like this. In the Big Ten, for example, you generally assume Ohio State might be good each and every year — but every program has a stretch of time where they’re not as good. (University of Texas might be an example right this second.) Relegate ’em, let ’em rebuild, and then they come back!

(I think that’s generally how the whole thing is supposed to work.)

So I started thinking yesterday in the elevator at work: what if we did this for salaries in organizations?

Alright, let’s start in the most basic place: this would never happen in the United States. There’s litigation issues out the wazoo around it, I’m sure.

But think about this series of steps, right?

I don’t think the situation above is actually that uncommon; in a way, I’m kind of describing the intersection of “The Peter Principle” and “Flawed Hiring Processes.”

Alright, so then we come back to this essential question, right?

So … if you make $100K and you’re not doing what it was believed you would do when you were hired, why can’t you be “relegated” to $90K for a year and be told that you have a chance to rise back up?

My biggest argument in favor here, in my own pea-sized brain, is that often the deal with “bad employees” or “employees not hitting goals” is that there are essentially three choices for the org:

  • Try to make better (very infrequently happens)
  • Fire (moreso, but harder)
  • Ignore for longest time possible and reassign to no-ROI projects at the same pay grade (Ding Ding Ding!)

What if Option 4 was “relegate and have actual, transparent conversation with about what’s happening and what it all means?”

Sorry, I just made myself laugh.

Here are the problems with my idea, of course:

  • Litigation from employees
  • Hard to do revenue planning/modeling if your salaries can fluctuate that much
  • The “relegation” would need to be based on something tangible and performance reviews usually aren’t tangible
  • It’s kind of management by negativity/fear, which seems bad
  • People would probably flee if they thought they could lose $10-15K for an “off-year”

Alright, so it’s probably a stupid idea, all told … but if given to the right kind of empathy and transparency-focused managers (LOL!), could it work?


Ted Bauer


  1. I could see this working for revenue-producing employees like salespeople, account managers, etc., but not for other typical office workers because their performance goals and objectives are often so subjective. I could also see an issue with new employees, even if they are revenue-producing, because it’s very difficult to set goals for someone who doesn’t have a track record yet.

    All that said, I think it’s time to put more pressure on employers to give better benefits, higher salaries, and more respect. Businesses get so many tax breaks and other incentives just by existing in many cases, yet workers are constantly pushed to jump through more and more hoops to satisfy ever-changing employment requirements. I’m glad more workers are using sites like Glassdoor to educate themselves about companies before even attempting to apply. I wish unionization wasn’t so decimated and demonized so that there could be some sort of national employees’ union, regardless of profession, where workers could opt in or out.

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