Bonus Time

- - Working

The end of the year is when corporate people start to think about bonuses and so far I’ve been lucky to work at companies that give them out. The problem has always been that the formula to determine who gets them and how much they get is a closely guarded secret. I have uncovered evidence that it’s loosely based on this top-secret formula: The bare minimum we can get away with where employees only grumble and don’t actually quit. I think back when media companies were setting new highs the bonuses were probably pretty good but now that the new highs are old lows it’s perfunctory at best.

This also reminds me that many photo directors and editors get a bonus for hitting the budget at the end of the year that can be $5,000 or more which is pretty significant for your bank account but when you’re dealing with multi million dollar photography budgets it’s a total joke. I can spend 5k in half a second so I don’t know why the CFO thinks that paltry bribe will get me to try and make photographers eat expenses on shoots or use stock instead of shooting something original, so I can meet some number they pulled out of their ass. I even argued once I should still get my bonus, even though I completely blew the budget, because it could have been worse. Hah.

There Are 19 Comments On This Article.

  1. I think your idea on how the bonuses are determined is dead-on. Have a corporate gig here, and the budget thing is very accurate. What makes that worse is the trickle-down theory – a lot of execs here skimp on budgets to make sure they get their bonus, at the expense of the quantity and quality of the work. So at the end of the day, you’re looking at a lesser job quality, frustrated employees, and a boss who gets a big bonus for it. All hail Corporate America.

  2. When I was a shooter at “a big film manufacturer”, bonus time was always interesting. Back “in the day” before my time I heard of stories that they were big enough that it was time for new car shopping or other big ticket purchases. When I was there you were lucky to be able to buy new tires. The whole reason George started the bonus/ profit sharing was to keep the unions out. What’s sad & laughable is the CEO & boards performance bonus’s in the millions each year. Even though the stock price was tumbling and market share was slipping at a record pace the Execs meet their goals of downsizing and deserved big fat checks. Not to mention all that corporate jet access!

  3. I worked for about 10 years at a large agency and bonus time was a real bitch. On one hand, it’s a dang BONUS. It means that it shouldn’t be expected and any little bit helps, right? On the other hand, we got to expect them because the president of the office would dangle them like carrots all year long and tell us how our performance was directly reflected in our bonuses.

    And then, one year, some exec. asst. accidentally left the bonus spreadsheet on a printer that someone in the Creative Dept. found while he was printing out an entire year’s worth of back timesheets. Holy shit–did it hit the fan! One of the SVPs was getting a 5-digit bonus for basically spending the whole year on her knees while many in the Creative Dept. did a PILE of work saving this SVP’s ass repeatedly throughout the year. I don’t think those Creatives’ collective bonus totaled what she got. And then, after taxes, those checks equal about half of what was allocated. I was young and I think I got $5K that year, which boosted me into another tax bracket at the time, which kinda sucked, actually.

    So, the whole bonus structure left a cloud of doom over everyone, since the details of that spreadsheet (that many, many copies were made of) were broadcast. Left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

    Bonus=fair? Never. Should we appreciate them, no matter what? Is it better than getting nothing? I guess I could ask a self-employed photographer, but then again, we all choose to bear our own creative crosses, no?

  4. Money is a very fleeting incentive. It’s much better – I’ve found – to give bonuses on the spot. I’ve used gift certificates, vacation time, and occasionally extra cash in the monthly check. The gratification needs to be as instant as possible – IMHO.

    Side note: I once worked for a small company that touted profit sharing as a huge incentive. The problem was that at the end of the year, the owner made sure that Corporate profits were near Zero by reinvesting in the company during the year. We never saw a dime.

  5. He he he, I was on a union negotiating team for a few years and one of the things management kept trying to sell was incentive based raises, merit pay and all sorts of other similar schemes. Our response was always, “pay us what we’re worth and fire us if we’re crap”.

    The very fact that management likes the idea should be a hint yes?

    Kim Taylor

  6. Corporate Guy

    I just heard a statistic on NPR a few days ago – they were reporting that 1/5 of companies who gave a bonus last year were doing away with it this year. And that in general, bonus amounts are getting smaller.

    I’m fortunate enough to work for a company that does give a end-of year bonus, but that too, is changing. It used to be a straight targeted 15 percent across the board. No matter if you were joe-blow janitor or the prez. They changed that this year, and for 2008 all hourly employees are no longer eligible. The bonus program also went to a performance-based system, where a certain part of the based on your performance (not all bad, I suppose). The really interesting part, was that they changed the percentage targets. So your typical salaried folks still target 15%, but now managers target something like 25% and directors even more.

    It went from what seemed to be mostly fair system to a heavily weighted curve where the higher-ups once again make out like pigs.

  7. Christopher

    Bonus, how about a kick in the nuts. I work for a Gannett owned newspaper and everyone on staff got the shaft this year. Our “Christmas bonus” was a cheep picnic basket. Seriously, I would have rather taken a check for the 12 dollars they spent on it. I guess the Gannett slogan of “better done than good” translates to bonuses too.

  8. Your formula is similar to mine when dealing client direct on commercial jobs. If they say OK too fast, you estimated too low. If they complain a bit first, it’s just right. :-)

  9. A guy who works on wall street said I shouldn’t leave MJ before the end of the year so I could get my bonus. Ha. He thought it was (estimating very low because he knows the industry I’m in) probably $20k. Oh boy, subtract a zero buddy. Nobody even knows if they’re giving one this year so I didn’t wait around.

  10. My bonus was a coffee bought from a cafe rather than making one myself. I savoured it. The moments that I took to enjoy it had a value to them.

    At least I wasn’t trying to find water and shelter in Bangladesh.

  11. bonuses??? companies give a way bonuses?!?! maybe i should rethink this self employment thingy.. haha

  12. JC, head for the next mirror and negotiate your bonus with him. i just raised myself a nice breakfast that way. cafe latte and all.. its the small bonuses that count in life, aint they?

  13. Bonus…

    B O N U S…

    B o n u s…

    Bon us…

    Nope, not familiar with that term.

    back to my cave…

  14. I think a lot of corporate America has really forgotten how to motivate their employees. It’s not just the publishing industry. Unfortunately is in every segment to some degree. I once managed credit and collections totaling millions of dollars annually, and if I hit my numbers, I could get a bonus of $500 per quarter. How motivated did that make me? Not very.

    Corporate profits have been a record highs over the last five years and it wasn’t from paying their employees lots of money… Unfortunately extracting profits from within will eventually hurt the company in a big way, though, of course, that CEO will be long gone when it comes time to pay the price.