Wednesday, December 16, 2009


For weeks, two of my coworkers (let's call 'em James and Morgan) and I have been speculating over the situation with bonuses, which are typically given out in December at my company. James has been saying all along that he didn't think we'd get a bonus this year. We had been assured (since our president heard about these rumors) that a bonus with forthcoming, but James pointed out that any token amount could qualify as a "bonus" so the assurances were meaningless.

Last year, my first year here, I got quite a magnificent bonus. I was told that 1/3 of it came from the group that had recently purchased our company, and the rest was from our company. It was awesome. My offer letter says that the company typically pays bonuses of around 10%, depending on company profits and individual performance. I didn't have much hope of getting the same bonus as last year, but I was hoping for around 10%. That is still a really large bonus, in my book, despite what we may have seen last year.

Santa Claus finally came today, in the form of our president telling us our amounts. Mine was slightly less than last year, and well above any line at which I would have felt disappointed. I am pretty thrilled with it.

I made the mistake of going to lunch with James and Morgan. James is angry - he saved the company some large amount of money this year, was told this would be remembered at bonus time, and yet he didn't get a proportionately large bonus, he didn't feel. Morgan was not dissatisfied with her amount (she also reported getting slightly less than last year, but none of us shared our amounts or percentages), but was fretful over various things she's heard. She fears that because she is sort of mousy and doesn't often work directly with the people who decided the bonus amounts, it might be easier to "screw her" by not giving her as much as she should get. She had a lot of process worries over how these amounts were decided, and was also upset because of some conflicts over other people's bonuses. (Apparently one employee was upset that another employee got a larger bonus - something she was in a position to know about - and left for the day.)

It was basically non-stop negativity from those two. The president had apparently made a comment to James that, given that she didn't have as much total bonus money as she would like, she trimmed down the bonuses to some people who are highly paid in order to boost bonuses for people who make less. He was very angry and upset over this prospect, calling it "unprofessional" and commenting, "A company that knew what they were doing would pay people their market value," and then going on for at least 5 minutes explaining how this idea that some people make a "premium" could be applied to anyone and bitching how there are no standards and so on and so forth. Morgan mostly cavilled about this, that, and the other.

Morgan also pressed me about how I felt, and though I didn't want to be self-righteous about it, I did have to make it clear that I thought the amount was very satisfying and generous, and that I have chosen not to concern myself with the sausage-making aspects of how the company is run, both in general and with regard to bonuses. (I have found that worrying or becoming annoyed at the ways of corporations only leads to madness, especially since I'm never privy to the real details of what is going on. Best to just let them run the company, assume they know what they're doing, and look out for my own interests in more productive ways.)

I did not say any of this, but I find it really unproductive and, frankly, immoral to have the attitude (in life in general) that, while what you got might be OK, someone else might be unfairly getting more. Our whole economic system invariably leads to a lot of "unfair" things that people at my company, at least, are benefitting from. I have friends who are harder working, probably smarter, and definitely more educated than I am, and who make less money than I do even though their jobs are not in any sense easier. That is not "fair." It is not supposed to be fair. Fair did not come into it at any point.

Morgan was concerned that some people might get higher bonuses because they are more liked rather than because they are better employees. On what basis is an employee liked? How do we judge "better"? Why worry about the parts you can't control? Why choose to be dissatisfied when things are, actually, really good?

I don't think either of these people has had a serious job working for another company, or they would know that all companies are fucked up, to a lesser or greater extent, and that this one is particularly great to work for, and very generous in every way. And, you know, if you don't think you're being paid your "market value," there is an easy remedy for that. (That would be the, um, job market.)

If I do go to grad school, and if my cohort is large enough that there are subgroups to it, I really need to be part of a subgroup of people who work hard and have good attitudes. Because this stuff does influence me and I don't want to be around a bunch of whiners who think life is unfair all the time.

(NB: I don't think people are wrong for complaining about legitimate grievances. If you work at Walmart and can't afford to take your child to the doctor, rail all you want - I'm with you. But if all you have are upper middle class problems, then STFU with your BS about "unfair.")


Susan Williams said...

With unemployment at 10%, I would think these people would be glad they even have a job - let alone a good paying job. As a friend reminded me the other day getting a bonus is not guaranteed. They are not alone in this. I know of several people who have gotten much lower bonuses than they were used to. One is getting half. I only wish my husband had gotten half - he got considerably less than that.

Tam said...

It's bad. I was blown away by the entitlement. I would have been disappointed to get a much lower bonus than I was expecting, because I'm human, but I wouldn't have been angry.

rvman said...

Having never worked in a job where bonuses existed, I've generally always viewed them as conditional and not really expected. I know in some jobs it is basically expected, more a '13th (or 27th, or 53rd, or whatever) paycheck' than a 'bonus', but that is beyond my experience. I was happy to get the $500 'bonus' the Legislature gave us rather than giving us an across the board raise this year. The economy has just been bad.

Tam said...

My offer letter from the company specifies that a bonus, based on profits, is generally given, and that it has historically been around 10% of salary. So I think that in a profitable year for the company (as this has been), it is reasonable for employees to expect a bonus. However, responding to news that is, by any reasonable standard, good with anger and suspicious Bizarre, and wrong.

Debbie said...

Expectations are a bizarre thing. Like rvman, I've never been at a place that pays bonuses (wait--I work for the same state as he does, and we were not included in the "bonus" this year--not fair!--waa!). But I do work at a place where someone would often let us leave early from work on the day before Thanksgiving and the day before Easter weekend. It was always a big surprise, announced at the last minute. I learned to do my urgent work early in the day just in case I suddenly got the green light to leave.

One year, at about the time these announcements were usually made, a bunch of people actually left their offices and sat around in the lobby complaining that we should be allowed to leave early.

People at several levels can make the call, and since the Legislature didn't, the president didn't and the Dean didn't, people started pestering the Chair. Finally the Chair said we could all leave as soon as Debbie typed a letter for him. Imagining them all staring me down, I asked him to let them leave right away and said I would be happy to stay and type a letter. Yikes!

To this day I'm not sure how to be nice to people without letting their expectation get all out of control.

Meanwhile, congratulations on your awesome bonus! Woo hoo!

Tam said...

It's probably impossible not to form expectations based on your experiences. It's also probably impossible not to feel disappointed when reality doesn't live up to your expectations. But it's incumbent on people not to let their natural disappointment turn into inappropriate anger, bitterness, etc.

Of course, people in authority can also help set expectations. Our president probably could have done a lot of good by saying something to all of us like, "Bonuses this year will probably be a bit lower than last year, but I think you'll be pleased."

When I worked at a larger corporation, they had profit-sharing that was much more defined, and at the end of the year, each person got a set percentage of their salaries, with the percentage depending on the company's performance. When you know everyone is getting 4.6% or 11.3% or whatever, there isn't as much angsting. And, of course, in a large corporation, the decision-making is far removed from the peons, so you don't tend to feel the same anyway.