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Bonus rage. And how to handle it

Small bonus banking

You can usually tell when someone has been paid like sh*t. They’ll walk straight out of the office after their compensation conversation, sit back down at their desk and stare at their screen. Sometimes, they’ll go to the bathroom and cry.

When your bonus is bad, there are a few things you can do about.

Firstly, forget stoicism. This is not the time to think about wanting less or being satisfied with what you have. You probably worked hard for that bonus. You probably generated a lot of value for your clients and for the bank, so where has that all gone? Let the anger happen. Don’t suppress it.

Secondly, get analytical. Channel the rage and figure out what went wrong. In banking, people will pay you what they think they can get away with. If you were underpaid, it was either because your boss thought he or she could do that and you would accept it. Or it was because that is how much they value you. Neither is a good place to be, but you need to figure out which one applies. – Do they not understand your value proposition? Or do they simply want to screw you over?

Thirdly, you need to make it VERY clear that you’re not happy. You need a meeting with your boss. You need to state why you feel betrayed and underpaid and you need to have a clear and rational case, with numbers, setting out why you deserved more. Don’t be emotional: be calm and factual. Your bonus can’t be changed now, but there may be other ways of making you better off. Your reaction will also be remembered next year.

Fourthly, you need to assess your options. What could you get elsewhere? Whatever your situation, you should be putting your head up every three years or so to see what your street value is. You also need to make sure your interviewing skills don’t get rusty. Go and meet some other firms, go and talk to people. See what your price is.

Lastly, you need to increase your value on the street. Every price has an intrinsic and a market component – the inherent value and the value people will pay there and then. You need to increase your intrinsic value as this is the long term driver. To do this, you need to increase your analytical skills, to become a better business writer, to become a better presenter, to become a better persuader and negotiator, to build your network and to get some big brands (whether of banks ro educational establishments) attached to your name.

This way, next time you get underpaid you’ll have options. And if won’t be you that suffers bonus rage, but your boss – when you leave for a competitor.

The author is a former Goldman Sachs managing director and blogger at the site What I Learned on Wall Street (WilowWallStreet.com). What I Learnt on Wall Street is an education focused business founded a group of Wall Street veterans from the best firms determined to help the next generation. They just launched: Smart Cuts to the Top, a live course delivered on Jan 24th.

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Comments (3)

  1. What a load of nonsense. This isn’t 2007, or even 2012. Banks aren’t paying because they don’t have the money. People need to get a grip.. its not personal. No one is getting paid like they were 5 – years ago. Going in to tell managers ‘you are NOT happy’.. good luck with that attitude. You don’t like it? Too bad. Leave. Managers are caught in a hard place these days trying to keep most people happy and some semblance of an annual career uptick in track.. that means lower pay for everyone. If you can’t understand the overall global backdrop and the fact the industry pays a lot less now.. you’ve lost the plot and don’t deserve the job you have anyway.

  2. Lol, if banks aren’t paying big bonuses, what’s the point of working for them? Go work elsewhere where you can make the same money and not work terrible hours. If banks don’t have the money to pay at the same level as before, then shouldn’t expect the same level of talent or dedication as before.

  3. When I was a young man and achieved my first management position, I received this advice from my boss:
    “Live your life without counting on your management pay, your bonus, or your wife’s income, and you’ll do well.”
    I took that advice to heart and did very well by it.

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