A reader writes:
For the last two years, I have received year-end bonuses (second year was larger than the first) for my work. After thanking my boss for them, each time he has said, “You deserve a lot more and hopefully next year’s will be larger.”
Now, I never expect a bonus, but this year we went through a merger, and as his assistant, I did all of the re-papering of accounts (greater than 300 accounts with 5 pages of paperwork each on average) and other administrative tasks for the merger, on top of general day-to-day operations not related to the merger (sales and customer relations are the two drivers of this business). Without my help, he would have been out of business for at least a month, and 2-3 months in a worst case scenario. Due to my efforts in preparing, we were “dead in the water” for less than 2 weeks after the merger took place.
Even with the hassles of a merger, we grew the business by 15% this year. I am a critical part of his business model as I assist, but also consult him on marketing and business strategies. I’m a “jack of all trades” in the office, if you will. This year I did not receive a bonus, even though the business produced more profits than either of the last two years.
Should I take this as a sign that my work is no longer appreciated? It’s worth noting that my pay is tied to gross revenue (not salaried), but revenues have grown every year I’ve worked for him and I still received a bonus in spite of my “base” growth. I don’t want to ask if I’ve done anything wrong because I don’t want to seem selfish… but I do feel a little under-appreciated considering the amount of effort I’ve put in this year comparable to other years.
You can ask without seeming like you feel entitled to a bonus, and you really should, because you’re reading a lot into it that might not be there.
Say something like this: “I know we’ve typically done end-of-year bonuses, but I haven’t heard anything about them this year. I don’t want to sound as if I think they’re automatic, because I understand that they’re not — but I also want to understand whether there’s anything about my work that might have resulted in me not getting one this year, or whether there are other factors at play.”
If you’d only ever received a bonus once, I wouldn’t suggest saying this; in that case, it might have been a one-time thing and you shouldn’t assume it was something that might happen regularly. But because you’ve received one two years in a row, and especially because each time your boss referred to “next year’s,” it’s reasonable to inquire.
When you raise this, however, make sure that you’re doing so with the understanding that bonuses truly are bonuses; they’re not an expected part of your compensation unless you have an explicit arrangement to that effect. There are many reasons unrelated to your performance that a company might not give them out, even when they have previously (especially in the case of a merger; there may now simply be different practices), so you don’t want to sound as if you feel entitled to one or as if you think it’s a slap in the face that you didn’t get one. And you really shouldn’t feel that way either, at least not before you’ve had a chance to talk to your manager about it.
So just ask, and see what your manager says.