Salary cuts and job layoffs are unfortunate trends in 2020. But not every industry or business is in the same boat. Some have weathered the uncertainty better than others — which can mean that year-end bonuses may still be on the table. Ask diplomatically to find out where you stand and have a game plan if there’s no bonus coming this year.
5 Steps to Getting Your 2020 Bonus
1. Read the room.
Consider how your industry as a whole was affected by COVID-19. Bear in mind the niches within each market: COVID put unique pressures on subsets of certain industries. Food and entertainment are two examples: fine dining took a big hit, but take out food services did well. Movie theaters shuttered, but streaming service subscriptions rose.
Then take a look at your company. Were there layoffs, salary freezes, or canceled raises? These can all give you a sense of where the company stands financially, even if leadership is mum about the whole picture. It is also the best evidence of how the company may handle employee compensation in a dicey economic environment.
Your company leadership may follow industry trends. So if competitors have canceled bonuses, they may do the same. Talk to colleagues or others in your network about trends in bonus payouts in 2020. Things may not be as bleak as you assume — The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2020 that some companies were restoring salary cuts and bonuses as some adjusted to new economic conditions.
2. Know your rights.
Review the rules when it comes to bonuses. Understand the type of bonus you receive. It may be discretionary or a matter of contract. Most bonuses are discretionary, which means your employer can opt to withhold them for any reason. However, you may receive a bonus according to specific metrics in the year, and these may form part of your salary. It’s not always easy to tell if your bonus is discretionary or an entitlement.
Review your paperwork with the company, in particular, your employment contract and anything you have received from HR after annual reviews and performance management discussions.
A lawyer can help you to interpret any important clauses. For example, your employer may have an out during an extraordinary year like 2020. Even if your bonus is not discretionary, the contract may say the company can refuse to pay in the event of dire economic conditions or unprecedented pressures on operations.
3. Ask to chat.
Choose a good time to discuss the matter with your boss. Avoid a day when her schedule is packed with meetings or when she’s facing important deadlines. Aim for a slower time where you can have a longer conversation. Imagine you are asking for a raise and decide when you would be comfortable having that talk. Your boss’s mood and lack of distractions are very important.
Try to get a sense of whether the decision on bonuses is final, and if not, when it might be. If your boss is prepared to have an extended talk, discuss your future role in the company. You can indicate your continuing commitment to the team. You may also get some insight into what your company sees in the future, both for your role and the overall organization.
4. Show Empathy.
Ask about the bonus, but use diplomacy. Express compassion for the company and its leadership as they navigate a tough time. Explain your reason for inquiry with a touch of honesty. Perhaps you want to plan your own financial future, or need to look after your family. You may face additional pressures if your spouse has faced job loss due to COVID-19. The bonus, therefore, is consequential to your personal circumstances.
Even if you have a contractual right to a bonus, you want to phrase the inquiry as a question, not a demand. There’s no need to burn bridges. Stay a team player as long as you can. You may have limited job options outside of the company. You may also have to negotiate a new salary or bonus structure at this company later on down the line.
5. Suggest alternatives.
The company may offer other benefits, like more paid time off, shifts in duties, and flexible scheduling. Create your own list of such benefits. Then ask if you could have one of these in lieu of a bonus if bonuses are off the table. This may in fact work for your situation. Perhaps extra time could help you and your spouse to juggle shifting job and family responsibilities.
Confirm that the decision on bonuses is final before asking for these alternatives. Clarify whether you want this to be a temporary arrangement. You may run the risk of permanently swapping your bonus for time off when you’d rather take the cash when it is available.
Find Out Where You Stand
Your interest in the bonus shouldn’t come as a surprise to your employer. Ask where you stand heading into the latter part of the year. You can find out what money you can expect. It is also a great opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the company, and find the best way to make your employment arrangement work for you and the organization.
Need help preparing to ask about your bonus? Connect with an Executive Mentor for advice!