#AskIvanka: Year-End Bonuses

What you need to know (but were afraid to ask).

Year-end bonuses are a delicate subject to say the least. They’re tough to talk about with your boss (or your employees), and they bring up a whole host of awkward situations and etiquette questions. We’ve got you covered—Ivanka weighed in with answers to your questions on the topic. Is it appropriate to negotiate my bonus? #AskIvanka

Q: I work in retail and get a bonus monthly for being the top seller, but only if the store makes its overall goal. I've been the top seller each month since July, but I only got a bonus for two months. Should I look for a different job?

A: Pooled bonuses are really tricky. In theory, they are supposed to ensure that everyone works toward goals as a team. In practice, for someone who’s a consistent top-performer and making her numbers in the midst of a group that perhaps isn’t, pooled bonuses can feel punitive and unfair. First things first: give your employer the opportunity to change your payment structure, especially if you’re otherwise happy in your job. Explain to your boss that month after month, you’ve exceeded your numbers but haven’t been bonused. If they’re unwilling to make the change, then think about leaving for an environment where you’ll be compensated based on your stellar performance.

Q: When you feel you are delivering great work in a company and love what you do there, but the company doesn't have a structured bonus or raise policy, how long should you wait to ask for such compensation or, eventually, start to look for other opportunities?

A: I’m a huge believer in having clarity around bonuses and what it takes to earn them. Having explicitly articulated goals for each member of the team is great for the employer, because they can hold their team accountable. It also helps prevent situations in which there are hurt feelings or where a worker thinks they’re living up to their boss’ expectations without realizing that they may not be. If you don’t have a clear bonus policy set up, try to take the ambiguity out of it by sitting down with your boss and understanding what his or her priorities are. That way, when the time comes for your next review, you have an opportunity to spell out how you’ve accomplished the goals they’ve laid out for you and prove how you earned that bonus or raise.

Q: How do you position yourself for a bonus if you are a new member of the team?

A: It depends how new you are, but generally if you’ve been at the company for less than half a year, you probably haven’t earned a bonus. You may be surprised and delighted with a one at the end of the year, but even if you’re performing at or slightly above your expected level, it’s probably not appropriate to aggressively put yourself forward for one.

Q: If my team's goals weren't met for reasons outside my control, do I still get my bonus?

A: If a team goal isn’t met and you feel it was truly outside of your control, it’s up to your boss’ discretion to decide if you should still get a bonus. The point of setting goals is to achieve them, and I’d like to think, in an ideal work environment, your boss is close enough to your work to see what you’re doing, how you’ve added value and how failure to meet a certain goal was outside of your control—if it was. If they don’t see that, it’s probably for a couple of reasons. One is that they feel it is cut or dry and the team didn’t make its goal and bonuses should be withheld categorically. Many bosses feel that way, and there are a lot of companies that operate like that. The other possibility is that perhaps you didn’t pull your weight and there’s a disparity between how you feel you contributed and what your boss thinks you contributed. If you’re concerned that you’re not going to get bonused, it warrants an honest conversation with your direct report to ensure that, even if you don’t get a bonus, they at least know you are making the effort to improve and learn how you can perform better next time.

Q: Is it appropriate to negotiate your bonus if you're either not given one, or not given as much as you think you've earned?

A: I’m on the fence about negotiating bonuses. No employer likes to give a bonus and then have somebody come back to them and negotiate it—I know that first hand! But, if there’s a gap between what you think you’ve accomplished and what your boss is recognizing you for, attempt to have a candid conversation with your direct report. Worst case scenario: You learn from your boss what you could be doing better and that they are disappointed in your work. It affords you the opportunity to do better going forward. You may also discover that it is time to think about your future if you’re in an environment that doesn’t truly value your contribution and isn’t willing to pay you what you think your market value is. Before going into this conversation, figure out what your objective is, whether that’s to learn and do better next year, to set more concrete goals or to simply get on the same wavelength as your boss.