I’m Dreaming of a Holiday Bonus, Just Like the One I Used to Know (or a Bigger One)

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Many of us have been fortunate enough to receive big fat bonus checks during the holiday season. Many of us have also been at the other end of the spectrum, receiving only branded coffee mugs to thank us for our hard work – if we receive anything at all. (My personal favorite gift from a former employer was a cheap, branded plastic analog clock [battery not included!] that broke before New Year’s Eve.)

These days, the holiday bonus is slowly being phased out. Only 63 percent of human resources and hiring managers plan to give a holiday bonus in 2017, versus 75 percent in 2016, according to the annual “Holiday Bonus and Hiring Survey” from staffing firm Accounting Principals.

However, those companies still planning to give holiday bonuses are going big, with the average bonus size up by 66 percent.

“With unemployment at record lows and the war for top talent increasing, companies are using holiday bonuses as part of their retention strategies,” says Laura Schroeder, vice president at Accounting Principals. “We find that rewarding employees can frequently encourage loyalty.”

Spreading Out the Cheer

While holiday bonuses are less popular, organizations aren’t striking bonuses entirely. Rather than handing out lump sums at the end of the year, many companies are now axing the holiday bonus in favor of year-round perks. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said their companies chose to offer other perks instead of year-end checks.

What form those perks take depends on the company, with flexible work schedules, additional paid time off, team outings, and in-office parties being particularly popular.

Some firms have also embraced the giving nature of the season by making charitable donations in lieu of holiday bonuses.

“As a response to the number of humanitarian crises in 2017, we’ve seen companies dedicate funds to more socially conscious efforts,” says Schroeder. “Some companies are giving to charities … in part because it shows employees that the organization’s values are aligned with the workforce’s.”

Whatever the reason, companies that choose not to give financial bonuses around the holidays need to make sure employees understand the reasons behind the decision.

“If companies are not giving out monetary bonuses this year, it’s important for them to be transparent and have employees involved in the conversation around why there will not be bonuses and what alternative benefits are being awarded,” Schroeder says.

If You Want a Bonus, Ask for One

You might think your employer knows you want a bonus, but don’t be so sure. Many employers assume that their employees prefer alternative perks or programs. It’s up to the employee to make sure their boss knows how they feel.

“Employees should feel empowered to ask their direct supervisors for bonuses, as long as they handle the conversation with care,” Schroeder says. “The end-of-year performance review is a great opportunity for employees to make the case for why they deserve a bonus. If a person’s company doesn’t have a formal review process and they are confident in the value they provide to the company, it’s still a good idea to request a meeting with a supervisor to discuss progress and areas for improvement for the following year.”

When requesting a bonus, make sure you go into the meeting prepared. It’s not about making demands, but about reminding your supervisor of the reasons you deserve a reward.

“Employees should communicate how they have contributed to the company and remind their supervisors of how they went above and beyond throughout the year,” Schroeder says. “Coming prepared with concrete examples, particularly ones that illustrate a positive impact on the business, will help position them for success.”

As for the employers themselves: Don’t forget that talent is in tight supply. Companies that invest in perks, engagement, and positive cultures should be okay, but those that cut out bonuses without offering alternatives risk losing workers to competitors that show more appreciation.

Read more in Benefits

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.