Are you overpaid? Do you deserve your bonus? I mean really deserve your bonus? What gives you the right to earn that money when so many people earn so much less? Particularly when your job isn’t explicitly helping humanity.
This is the argument of people like prospective UK prime minister Jeremy Corbyn and former deputy governor of the Bank of England, Paul Tucker. Three years ago it was also employed by my managing director (MD) as he cut my bonus to almost nothing.
I knew he was going to screw me over even before I went into the bonus meeting. The MD in question had arrived midway through the previous year, replacing my previous MD who’d hired me, paid me and kept my back. He’d left for another job. This new guy was out for himself: everyone knew he wasn’t to be trusted; he’d already shown a willingness to twist facts and blame people unfairly – even the other MDs knew this. Worse, he didn’t like my previous MD and by inference he didn’t like me.
He started with all the usual chat you get when your bonus is going to be abysmal. He told me how the financial crisis had changed everything, how people aren’t paid the same way they used to be. He told me how banks everywhere were being fined, how regulatory costs were up and margins were down, how the bank itself wasn’t doing well.
Then he told me my total compensation number. For a moment I was confused: was this my bonus? No: it was my total compensation. The actual bonus was almost nothing. I knew it was going to be bad, but I had no idea it would be this bad. It was far below even my lowest expectations.
What could I say? This was my boss: I couldn’t complain too much or I’d be out of a job. I wanted to resign on the spot, but I had rent to pay. So, I just sat there and asked how the numbers had been allocated. The MD told me more generic stuff about team performance and the size of the pool and another division taking a hit and so on. He didn’t acknowledge that I’d had a good year, that personally I was one of the better performers in the team. Or that he’d just given me a huge pay cut.
I guess that he could see that I was annoyed because next he reached for his “Corbyn rationale.” He told me I had no right to expect a bigger bonus anyway. Specifically, he said that his wife worked for a charity and earned £25k a year and that she was doing far more, “good in the world,” than I was working in rates sales. The implication was that I should be grateful for just having my salary.
What could I say? That this was the height of hypocrisy? That the man across the table who was lecturing me on my moral inferiority had shown no compunction about screwing over the team even before this? That his wife might be earning £25k but that he himself was easily earning over twenty times that? That I’d probably put in more hours than his wife over the previous year? That banks and charities aren’t really comparable, and that charities can get away with paying less precisely because they “do good” and this means people want to work there despite their low pay?
I could have said all of this, but at that moment I wanted to keep my job. So I said nothing.
I quit the following year. Banks need no excuse to cut pay. The only way you can get paid for the work you do in banking now is to have a managing director on your side. It’s better to get out than to listen to all the platitudes from your manager (“It’ll be fixed for you next year”), when the MD makes the real decisions. If your MD is a devious hypocrite, you’re wasting your time.
Sebastian Speaks is the pseudonym of a VP in sales
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