I've been recalling tales lately of the extinct holiday bonus and the strange beast of today's performance bonus that has replaced it.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – In another lifetime, one of the great American business traditions used to be a holiday bonus. It was sometimes big and happy-making.
I've been hearing other kinds of stories lately.
I've heard about employees of one big electronics company taking a five percent across-the-board pay cut the same year its CEO was awarded a $40 million bonus. I wonder how much that $40 million would have amounted to if divided equally among his people? I bet many of them resentfully ran the numbers.
I heard about acquisitions puncturing what would have been hefty employee bonuses, once again while the CEO got a multi-million dollar thank you. When employees complained that the way the acquisition skewed the numbers screwed them out of earned performance pay, management essentially said "I feel your pain."
I have heard stories of employees who find inscrutable the formulas for calculating any sort of bonus or pay cut.
I recall the 13-month pay contracts for locals when I worked in Hong Kong. They needed the extra pay to finance their Lunar New Year celebrations which are even more financially and emotionally demanding than our Western holiday traditions, if you can imagine that.
Personally, I have been on all sides of this situation—without even moving companies in nearly 20 years. I have been the recipient of unearned corporate bonuses from family-run companies when times were good. I got my share of lumps of coal in my Xmas stocking when times were bad. Now I am part of a public company where we workers pray (and work) for a slice of profits under a performance-based program.
If you've been hanging around the electronics industry as long as I have you have tasted the sweetness of the go-go days--and you know they are long gone-gone. But this is still a great industry to be in. Heck, many people never even knew any boom years.
So I open this door to commiserate with you all on this practical 2010 holiday season in a great and maturing industry. I welcome your stories of bonuses and busts and inscrutable formulas as we hunker around this little digital fireplace telling tales of the golden days and our hopes for tomorrow.