Guest comment: Not quite the bonus you expected?

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Aidan Kennedy, a partner at financial services search firm Christian & Timbers, on what to do if your bonus doesn't measure up to expectations.

There's nothing like a good year to breed discontent over bonuses. The expectation management process has a tendency to ring a little hollow when the fees coming in the door are there for all to see. However, the management headache of who and how to reward never goes away, particularly when differentiating between top performers becomes difficult. Overall market transparency of compensation numbers is much higher now than before but management is perpetually faced with the "..but I know someone who was paid 30% more at his shop!" response no matter how many spreadsheets they seem to have recourse to, in justifying the number.

But what do you do if you feel that you've genuinely been short changed on your bonus?

1. Don't spontaneously react! There's little point pretending that the bonus season isn't an emotional time and it's not because everyone is primed to buy a Cartier watch or a Sunseeker. New families, new homes and school fees make the mid level professionals particularly cash conscious. But objectivity is required. How realistic were your expectations in the first place? How far away was the number? Throwing your toys out of the pram for a small amount rarely marks you out as a team player to management!

2. Run your own due diligence process: Talk to a reputable headhunter and get a sense of how realistic your own expectations were. What data points were they based on? Break down your own performance. Tell objective, third parties you trust your reasons for complaint and get their honest reaction. If after this process, it's clear you were paid fairly, ask yourself whether your frustrations don't lie elsewhere?

3. Investigate the options: Just because you haven't been paid market rate, doesn't mean there are automatically better options elsewhere and changing for the extra 20% or taking a large guarantee to justify an inferior job is never good career sense. Draw up your list of institutions you would move to and investigate with your headhunting and industry contacts on whether a suitable role exists.

4. Give the boss one chance to get it right: Not at the point of resignation which will always leave you tarred if they fix the issue and you decide to stay. Instead, explain your unhappiness backed by data points that show the complaints are reasonable. Their hands may be tied and the best they can offer is better treatment next year. But you have at least demonstrated your wish to resolve the situation amicably.

5. Think long term: Sounds obvious, but bankers in particular are frequently terrible at long term career management. Part of this is environmental, how can you plan long term when the only thing guaranteed in investment banking is change? But two elements never change in providing career security: strong relationships with clients who pay and deep multi product experience. There is always a demand for the former and the latter allows you to adapt to market conditions. If you decide to leave, based on one bad number, make sure it's not costing your long term career marketability.

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