Ah, that first bonus. So many things you’ve spent it on before it’s even in your pocket.
You remember the feeling: anxious all day, sitting, waiting for your name to be called. The long stroll towards your manager’s office. Dry-mouthed, heart pulsing in your neck; stomach turning as your clammy hand grips the door handle. A colleague scurries out just before you enter; their head is down, unsmiling, avoiding eye contact. But it’s your turn, and you know you deserve something great. Something better than they got. After all, you joined one of the toughest industries in the world, and poured your heart into it.
You wipe your palms as your manager shuffles some papers, finding your envelope. He or she checks the number again, looks up briefly, then says to sit down. They ask how you feel—how you’ve been settling in. Any issues with the others on the desk? “No, everyone’s been great,” you blurt, hands cupped in your lap. Finally, the business is settled.
The number you hear is often less than expected. Not always, of course. But reading Cityboy may not have prepared you nearly enough for your initial bonus reaction. It’s easy to get upset, hurling oaths around the room. Understandably, you’ve pinned your self-worth to something external.
Don’t. If you feel short-changed, open a calm dialogue, requesting reasons while conveying your disappointment. But be respectful. Your manager has had these difficult discussions all day, and while he or she determined your team’s allocations they had no part in the greater bonus pool. They simply cut the slices of the pie they were given.
The key is learning context (i.e. Where did you measure against your peers? Was the department’s pool down from last year?), and what you can do better in twelve months time.
Always keep your composure—there’s no whining in this game. Support your counter-claim with facts and accomplishments (though it’s unlikely to change the number), so that your manager knows you respect yourself and the good work you’ve hopefully done.
Likewise, your manager should provide the transparency you deserve. If vague, then vow silently to seek employment elsewhere once that money is deposited into your account.
A big mistake is resigning in anger, before that check clears. There’s fine print on discretionary bonuses, allowing their revocation should you quit before payout. That money is simply not yours until it is. And once it’s acquired, there’s no need to blow it all in a day. Make some investments. Maybe return the shiny watch—but keep the trip to Ibiza. Give that money a memory.
Whatever the number, keep it to yourself. Be discreet. If someone else wants to boast or moan, fine. Let it be a boon. There’s no shame in thinking you’re better than you are—but at some point, you’ve got to prove it. Bonuses are a beautiful thing, so keep some perspective. Whatever the size, there’s good opportunities provided in that lump sum. Shake hands, and have fun with it!
Mark Romeo is a former prime brokerage professional who’s worked in New York and London.