Bonus ≠ Compensation. Stop Confusing the Two

Recognize This: Compensation and bonus are two different things, like oil and water. Stop trying to mix them together.

UK press reported last month that the banks find themselves between a rock and a hard place. On one side, the country is operating under deep austerity measures, banks are being accused of not lending to businesses enough, and London banks plan on paying out £7 billion in bonuses (or maybe they’ll reduce it to £4 billion). On the other side, if the banks agree with each other to cap bonuses (which are seen as a critical recruiting/retention tool), then they could be prosecuted for competitive collusion.

How’d the banks find themselves in this mess? Simple. Like on Wall Street in the US and elsewhere in the world, they confuse bonus with compensation. One banker is quoted in the article:

“There’s no chance that the big US investment banks will follow our example, which means that business and good people could leave London for New York or elsewhere if we’re seen to be paying less than the market rate.

Did you catch that? “Paying” less than the market rate. Bonuses are not pay. Bonuses are given for achieving stretch goals, going beyond what is expected. Bonuses are not base compensation. They should never be an expectation.

The only thing your employees should be expecting to receive is a paycheck for work rendered. Anything beyond that – bonus, incentive, recognition, reward – is never “paid.”

Does your organization confuse bonus and compensation? Would you rather receive less compensation and hope for a bonus or would you rather know your base compensation is fair and reasonably equitable for the role and anything on top of that is icing?

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