Guest comment: How to play a lower-than-expected bonus

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Guy Day, managing director for Asia at recruitment firm Ambition, advises how to react if your bonus doesn't measure up to expectations.

The discussion of bonus is an extremely contentious subject. It's also an emotional one and quite rightly so. The prestige of working in high-profile financial institutions comes at a price - intensive hours, heavy travel schedules, and stress. At the end of a long year, employees look for their efforts to be recognised and their contribution to the financial success of their organisation to be handsomely rewarded.

However, the difference between a good and a great bonus can be significant, so how do you react if your bonus is lower than expected?

1) Understand the criteria used to determine your bonus

In some organisations, such as leading investment banks, bonuses are largely discretionary and it can be very difficult to pin down the likely range into which your bonus will fall. You may have reference points from previous years, and a significantly better performance by your office or division may prompt a proportionately higher bonus. If you cannot quantify the way your bonus is determined, ask for reference points from last year's payouts - for example, how much was a person performing a role similar to yours paid on average? Headhunters should be able to provide you with this information. It's especially appropriate if you are looking for a new job and want to understand how competitively different organisations remunerate people.

2) Determine your value to the organisation

The greater the asset you represent to the organisation, the more attractively it needs to remunerate you and the greater its concern that you may resign if you are not satisfied with your bonus. While you should never hold a gun to your employer's head, organisations need to determine a market value for their employees. The bigger ones have clearly-defined compensation and benefits policies in place, which means they pay people within clear bands.

3) Remain calm before your bonus discussion

The build-up to a bonus discussion can be a very stressful period, as so much of your annual income can depend on that figure. Be prepared for different outcomes and ensure you retain a professional demeanour. Ranting and raving to your supervisor over a lower-than-expected bonus won't necessarily pay dividends.

4) Don't make it personal

It is important to remember, assuming you are an individual the organisation wishes to retain, that your boss will want to pay you a bonus that you are pleased with and that motivates you to stay with the company. If the company doesn't wish to retain you, your employer holds all the cards and is entitled to pay you a lower bonus or, worse still, terminate you in advance of a bonus payment.

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