What holiday bonus?

Marketplace Staff Dec 8, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: It’s one holiday story you’re sure to hear every year: Bonuses on Wall Street, thousands of dollars of extra pay, millions, sometimes. Maybe we take note of the extra som’in som’in under the tree because for many of us holiday bonuses are a thing of the past. Marketplace’s Hillary Wicai reports.

HILLARY WICAI: If you’re looking forward to a holiday bonus this year, don’t do what Clark Griswold did in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.


CLARK GRISWOLD: “Take a look at this. I just hope my Christmas bonus check will cover it.”

RESPONSE: “Oh my God, you’re putting in a pool.”

In fact, he’s already made a down payment on the swimming pool. But, he doesn’t get the bonus. Instead he’s enrolled in a Jelly of the Month club. Not good for the family gathering.


ELLEN GRISWOLD: “Clark I think it’s best if everyone just goes home before things get worse.”

CLARK GRISWOLD: “Worse?! How could they get any worse? Take a look around you Ellen, we’re at the threshold of hell.”

Today, we may not be at that threshold but an extra couple weeks of pay just for the deck-the-halls of it has gone the way of the three-martini lunch. Workers lunching, sans martinis, at a Washington, DC food court, reminisce:

WORKER: “In the ’80s I received four months salary, gross. It was fantastic!”

Ahh the good old days. Instead recent surveys indicate that fewer than half of us will be treated to a bit of cash, a gift card, even bizarre and slightly unappreciated treats.

WORKER 2: “I got a gingerbread house. We took the thing out in the back of the company and stomped on it. We were so insulted.”

But here’s the question: Is a gingerbread house better than what this woman’s expecting this year:

WORKER 3: “Nothing. You mean from my boss?? Nothing.”

If you do get something these days, it tends to be tied to performance and may not even come at the holidays. Brian Drum runs his own executive search firm.

BRIAN DRUM: “Whether it be how well the company’s doing, how well the department’s doing, how well the individual does and of course there’s still the management discretion, but the bonus today is one that is paid based on some performance-related metrics.”

That said, Wall Street is handing out record bonuses this season. It’s been a huge year for mergers and acquisitions. So the average managing director at a top Wall Street bank is expected to take home a bonus of $1.7 million — up from $1.2 million last year. That’ll stuff your stocking.

Josh Joseph is a research director at business publisher BNA. He surveys the rest of us, with stockings that are lucky to hold a couple hundred bucks. It’s not much, but can generate a fair amount of good will.

JOSH JOSEPH: “Even though we’re not going to give you enough to buy a pool, employers don’t just do this kind of thing for no reason. $100 pr $200 makes a difference to people and it leaves people in the right frame of mind about their employer.”

And that’s exactly why business consultant Jennifer Berman encourages her clients to do something for their workers. Otherwise it could cost them more in the long run.

JENNIFER BERMAN: “I think companies have become increasingly focused on bottom-line results, stock price. With good reason, however you’ve got to recognize that without your people, most of those efforts will come up short.”

On the bright side, a growing number of small firms plan to give the gift of extra time off. Alice Bredin is a small business advisor for American Express.

ALICE BREDIN: “I mean everybody wants and would love an extra day here, an extra week there, four days there, because you can’t buy time and as much as we all love extra cash too, I think that there’s a trend now toward people just really value time..”

So start dropping hints to Santa Boss now: The gift of time is priceless. Who needs a million dollars or a new pool anyway?

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace Money.

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