Merit-Based Bonuses Are A Myth

Workers Get Performance Pay Like Kids Get Trophies

According to Bloomberg, researchers have found that you can entirely fail to meet expectations as an employee and still get a supposedly performance-based reward at more than 25% of employers surveyed. At lots of others, presumably, you can be mediocre and get your annual “good job” check too. So why can you be kind of or even totally bad at your job and be rewarded anyway? Because your bosses are bad at their jobs too:

The survey also uncovered rampant grade inflation for performance reviews. Most managers rate underperforming workers as either meeting or exceeding expectations, said Laura Sejen, a managing director at Willis Towers Watson.

Part of your manager’s duties include having a sense of, and providing, an accurate assessment of your skills, and your manager is failing at that. Well, managers are busy; and besides, like everyone (except me) they hate performance reviews.

Another possibility: maybe they’re being kind. Maybe they understand that even lackluster employees can use a little extra cash at a time when the cost of everything is going up but salaries aren’t.

The upshot is, in Bloomberg’s estimation, that “a lot of undeserving workers are getting merit-based bonuses, which kind of defeats the purpose of rewarding people with money for a year of good work.” Between that and the fact that lots of us treat even what’s supposed to be merit-based pay as our due, something which we’re led to expect especially as wages remain flat, bonuses have become “kind of useless as a motivational tool.” Like tipping in restaurants! Maybe we should do away with both tipping and bonuses altogether and just pay people what they deserve.

Hard for me to talk, though, since it’s been so long since I was at a workplace where bonuses were a thing that I can barely remember what it was like and whether it ever functioned for my coworkers or me as a motivational tool. It’s possible, in fact, that I’ve never worked at an office that dangled the prospect of $$$ as an inducement. Mostly I’ve had to try to do my jobs well in order to, well, keep my jobs or get better ones.

Do you get a bonus every year at Christmas / in February that’s supposedly tied to performance? Or one that comes more or less standard, to the point where you even budget around it?

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