Some time right after the summer ends the bonus chatter begins. Usually the first person to start the conversation on the upcoming bonus season is a loser. He/she knows it but hope dies slowly in the corporate compensation merry go round. As year-end approaches employees become hardened in their expectations. Nights out with colleagues self-reinforces what the alcohol consumed makes easier to mentally swallow. There will be no bigger bonus.
Only after a good deal of time does the corporate narrative begin.
Round 1 is usually sometime in late September/ early October and even the division managers feel optimistic. Solid results should definitely yield good treatment for the bonus pool. Employee retention should be a priority for any self respecting corporate master. The managers feel good about their own prospects too.
Round 2 comes in November. Now September quarter earnings are out and the high level corporate spin begins. Management points out how difficult the competition is. Management dives deep into the differences in performance among divisional contributors. At this stage some employees hear the faint whisper that this time may not be their time. Hope has begun to wane.
Round 3 is usually a December event but a lot happens in the shadows. Managers have now been called individually and had their expectations lowered. These managers have now tried their best to make their spreadsheets work. Spread the peanut butter evenly or give outsized rewards to the superstars?
The office of the big boss is now a steady stream of comers and goers. Sitting in the ante room managers try to read the expressions on the faces of their colleagues leaving the room.
Is he getting more than me? Damn!
The whir of activity continues for days on end. The news of the dim prospects starts to permeate out of the inner sanctum. The troops now know it won’t be pretty.
By the time the employees get their bonuses most are happy to still have a job. They have prepared their spouses that there will be no bigger bonus this year. Christmas will be less jolly than expected.
The agony of the unknown yields to the certainty of settling. At least it’s over.
The emotional toll this takes every year is debilitating. Some put up a brave face but no one escapes the feeling of hopelessness. Many break down publicly and even more do so privately.
3 Things Have Changed Since the Great Financial Crisis
First, a period of robust growth and ever increasing profits has ended. The world economies are limping by at sub-par growth rates. Regulation is worse. Excessive leverage is no longer employed to juice corporate profits
Second, future expectations have been lowered dramatically. Companies expand more carefully. They reward much less liberally.
Third, virtually every job has become at risk. Quarterly cost reduction exercises are now the norm. Older division managers are routinely replaced to “take a different direction”. Other excuses are used but the idea is the same. The result is age bias.
For corporate employees in their 50s this is a dangerous mix.
This is the time that the retirement savings were supposed to add substantially to savings.
A Bigger bonus was Supposed to Provide These Savings
Now income uncertainty is overwhelmed by employment uncertainty.
Worse yet is that most workers are unprepared.
According to the Financial Mindset Study, only 40% of respondents have created a financial plan. This means 60% of American workers are essentially closing their eyes, throwing a dart, and hoping that everything works out OK.
This doesn’t have to be your plan.
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The Way Forward
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