They got a rise out of me, but I wanted a raise.
June 12, 2009 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Recently, my boss promised me a performance bonus that he did not make good on. I need help with how to both deal with and get over this tricky bonus/work situation.

Recently, my boss promised me a performance bonus that he did not make good on. Needless to say, I am very disappointed, but I want to not be. That's not the whole story, though. Please bear with me. I am trying to give all the facts because I am anonymous and I also am trying not to give away any identifying details.

At my job, upper management launched a competition amongst its managers where bonuses were paid out quarterly. Each week, us managers are evaluated by 3 criteria, and we would receive emails detailing our rankings by these criteria. For the whole quarter, I was number one. This was no small task. I'm omitting the industry, but this was very hard to do, given how this industry was affected by the economic slump. Further to that, I was the only manager who generated a profit every week, while *all* of the other managers were in the red every single week. During this time, I broke two sales records, and received so much positive customer feedback.

So, the bonus structure works such that the #1 manager would get the largest bonus and #2 would get the next biggest, and so on. #1 and #2 are very big amounts. The one caveat is that if you do x, you are disqualified from being #1. This one thing is sort of like a report not being submitted on time or correctly. The downside is you are indirectly responsible for the report, because it's part of your job to manage everyone, and it falls under the duties of your third-in-command.

Well, my third in command failed me. To be fair, I knew this was the disqualifying behavior and had been on top of it, but he dropped the ball on this one week before the end of the quarter, thereby disqualifying me from what I had worked so hard for the prior 12 weeks.

All of upper management was extremely sympathetic. When it happened, I was so appreciative of the outpour of support from people who I didn't think cared or even knew me. It turns out I had been a hot topic because I had performed so well, and it was unprecedented. Further, one coworker (not a manager, but someone who works in the office) let me know that without my sales profit, it was likely that no one would have received bonuses (managers and upwards). The president of the company and my boss both came to me straight after the upset and said they would make up for it, because while they (and I) understood I couldn't get the #1 bonus, they still wanted to do something to honor my hard work and effort. Specifics did come up in terms of numbers, and I thought what my boss threw out was a fair compromise. It was a halfway point between the #1 and the #2 big prizes. I didn't get it in writing, because I didn't ask/fish/pout for this action, and didn't want to seem like I was looking a gift horse in the mouth. Clearly a big mistake and lesson learned. A lot of their reasoning and actions seemed to be based on the fact that they didn't want their top performer to get de-motivated or be demoralized. Fair, I thought, because I was headed that way.

Bonuses are given out a month after the end of the quarter at our formal quarterly gathering, and I was disappointed that I wouldn't receive the honor of being #1, and also a little embarrassed because other managers definitively expected that I would be the #1 (usually there is a little bit of guessing who would be #1, but since the weekly results are distributed and I had been #1 every week, there should have been no surprise this time).

But I was surprised because my bonus was $7,000 short. It was less than half of what was promised. No follow up ever came from either the president or my boss.

I stewed for weeks. I was upset because I worked so hard to achieve what I did, only to have it thrown away for something that had not happened before and was sort of out of my control (I go back and forth on that - to be honest). But, I am really upset because my cohorts did nothing to deserve the #1 and #2 bonus really other than submit the report on time (again, it's not a report, but trying to not list anything identifying). They were all (15+ others) in the red for the whole quarter, and I was subjected to weekly meetings and emails where the managers were given a talking to about their underperformance. I mention this to show that performance is the key and the report/technicality is sort of a small thing, and at best negligible to the actual goal. It would be like if you were disqualified from being valedictorian because you were late to school once, in the way that attendance contributes to the student as a whole, but the grades and effort are obviously the key component to being considered for the honor in the first place, ya dig?

I admit that I despise confrontation, and so I was slow to bring this up. I'm even afraid that my boss was banking on that. When I finally did talk to my boss, after weeks of dodging (I believe) my email requests to speak about this, he finally came back last week with the bonus amount being discretionary, which is funny because this is the line he gave in support for the promised bonus. He also mentioned that they did promote me one month after. I take issue with that because my performance gained me that. They didn't do me a favor by promoting me. And, it was sort of a lateral move – I am still a manager, no raise or title change, but for a new business unit. To be fair, in this company, that is considered a promotion. He also mentioned how they consider me for all sorts of opportunities within this company (being made partner, moving to the next level of managers, etc), but I now take this with a grain of salt, because I was already promised something, and looked how that turned into this long anonymous metafilter post. I am angry, and I do feel that any attempts to explain why I didn't get my promised bonus is really him minimizing my efforts and unprecedented accomplishment . Is that irrational?

Also: shortly after I received my bonus letter, I received really good tickets to an event from my boss and the president (unclear who was doing the giving) that I have repeatedly expressed interest in, but no reference to the disconnect in what was promised vs. What was given. The tickets were not paid for. They told me that a business partner had them, and they passed it along because they knew I liked it. In fact, when I went to the event, another one of my colleagues was there. Since they didn't mention it in reference to my bonus, I took the gift as a nice thing, as a prior boss in the same company had once *purchased* tickets for me to an outing as a thank you. Now, I'm worried they think they were making up for the missing money OR doing something nice to prevent me from asking about the bonus. Again, no mention of the promised bonus, and that infuriates me because I wouldn't have accepted them if there was some ulterior motive.

I apologize if I sound entitled. I know a bonus is just that - a bonus. I am thankful to have a job during a time when others aren't so fortunate or even certain about the future of theirs. But this is a very demanding industry in the most demanding city, and i worked 18 hour days, never took vacation, neglected my partner and myself, not for the bonus, but to keep my momentum going. I also feel some kind of way that they never communicated that things had changed, and instead left me to be disappointed and follow
up with them (in essence begging for the money).

So, my question is two fold:

A) How can I get over this and be motivated again to work hard, when I believe in my heart of hearts that any reward could be taken away from me because of a technicality (even if it is explicit)?

B) How can I best appeal to my boss and get what I think I deserve?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total)
I'm really not sure how helpful my perspective will be considering I've never worked in the corporate world and am basically a callow overgrown middle-schooler but:

"i worked 18 hour days, never took vacation, neglected my partner and myself, not for the bonus, but to keep my momentum going"

I'd revisit the decision to put Everything Else In Life on the back burner. Maybe you just reorganized your priorities for what was obviously a stressful and deadline-oriented period of time for your organization; maybe you always function like that. But I bet you'd be moving onward and upward with more...I don't know...ease? Peace? Optimism? if you could reconnect with the rest of your life.

Honestly, if it were me I'd "take" the rest of my bonus in the form of taking some serious time for myself and my partner. (Whether that means actual time off or just increasing the mental space between Work and Real Life or what.) But, uh, I've never worked in the corporate world, callow overgrown middle-schooler, etc. I think I understand your frustration but it does sound like you're over-invested in your career success as your identity. And while that produced great results for your employer in the short run I worry that you're seriously short-changing yourself and all that good stuff that "really matters" in the long run.

I hope you can find some peace. As for approaching your bosses about the discrepancy, it would be my inclination not to. But there are probably real grownups better qualified than Neofelis to address that.

Good luck. I sort of want to give you a hug.
posted by Neofelis at 5:59 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Well, as to B), I think I would approach your boss with the expectation that you want your "third-in-command" either transfered or fired. It I am looking at your numbers right you were supposed to get somewhere between the two bonuses, which you expected to be around 14k. You got half that. If you'd had the report on time, you would have gotten considerably more. Point out that if he's costing you this much money, he's probably costing the company more.

This doesn't seem unreasonable to me. You said you're not good at confrontation though, but this still might give you the opening you need to discuss the bigger issue. If they think this is unreasonable to transfer him, again, point out how much money he's cost you personally.

As to A), pretense or not, a qualifying event did not occur, while the "report" may have been a technicality, it was still part of the rules and in the end sounds like you are taking responsibility.

So to get over it, take the high road, be glad they gave you a bonus at all, move on, and make sure this underling doesn't screw up like this again. Or confront them, demand what you've earned, threaten to look/go elsewhere (only a good idea if you and they believe you can).
posted by cjorgensen at 6:11 PM on June 12, 2009

Can you put that you were #1 on a resume?
posted by Napierzaza at 6:16 PM on June 12, 2009

You did a helluva job. Use it at the negotiation table. They can't ignore it. The fact that you got screwed by them is actually leverage to help you squeeze out a better deal, so don't be afraid to remind them. Look at it this way: if you had gotten the full bonus, you would have been fully compensated for your work by now. The fact that you didn't get the full bonus means that you are only partially compensated. You know it, and upper management knows it. So use it to swing an even sweeter deal for yourself, like a larger raise or a better bonus plan next time around.

Not to mention, if you did as well as you say you did, you can probably move to a new job relatively easily right now; consider talking to a recruiter.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:29 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

But, I am really upset because my cohorts did nothing to deserve the #1 and #2 bonus really other than submit the report on time

Sorry, but those were the rules. It's your problem that you work for an employer who rigs a contest with bullshit rules. I don't see how you can hope to successfully appeal when you so clearly fumbled according to their rules. So that takes care of (B).

As to (A), I like what jabberjaw has to say.
posted by jayder at 6:38 PM on June 12, 2009

You can't appeal to your manager, because you already did that. Unless, of course, you are willing to walk away from this job. But even then, it's temporary -- you may get some concession, but at the cost of them knowing that you're willing to leave them.

So, can you walk away? If you, say, sell cars for a living, you might want to hang tight for a while. On the other hand, if you sell something that's doing well industry-wide, maybe it's time to look elsewhere.

But, the guy who didn't file the report... this is a guy who needs to pick up the slack and work very hard to help you stay motivated. His mistake (and your lack of oversight) cost you $7,000.
posted by Houstonian at 7:01 PM on June 12, 2009

Leave. As in, leave. Your job sounds really unnecessarily competitive—but also frustratingly arbitrary.

You're worth more to someone else, I promise.
posted by trotter at 7:12 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

The downside is you are indirectly responsible for the report, because it's part of your job to manage everyone, and it falls under the duties of your third-in-command.

You are directly experiencing your failure to successfully supervise the duties of your third-in-command. Sorry to hear that happened, perhaps you'll learn an expensive lesson and ride that third-in-command quite a bit harder next time. To leave something so consequential to your personal bottom line up to someone else is hard to imagine. Perhaps foul play is afoot. Is it possible he got a little something-something under the table to file the "report" late?
posted by torquemaniac at 7:30 PM on June 12, 2009

A) How can I get over this and be motivated again to work hard, when I believe in my heart of hearts that any reward could be taken away from me because of a technicality (even if it is explicit)?

Uh, you can't. And it can. I wouldn't knock myself out too hard for this company again if I were you.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:47 PM on June 12, 2009

I agree that if you're this hard a worker and this good at what you do, a competitor will be more than happy to scoop you up. Put out some feelers, and play hardball a bit when negotiating.

The "report" rule, as jaydar says, seems like bullshit and just an easy out for the management--unless being able to ensure your underlings perform is a critical part of your job. Do you get to hire your underlings, or are they given to you? There are several industries, law, for example, where having your assistants miss a filing deadline could be a disaster, with no comebacks.

I'm sorry you got the steak knives instead of the Cadillac, but do consider if you really want to bust your butt for a bunch of people who renege on their promises.
posted by maxwelton at 1:45 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can't win a negotiation unless you're willing to walk away.

Find yourself another job offer. Or two. Then go to management and say, "I've got a better job offer. What can you do?"

Your company has a short-sighted management philosophy that does not reward its workers for their hard work, and depends on technicalities to avoid paying out bonuses. Start seeing recruiters. Don't make threats at your job, just be unavailable at lunch from time to time. If you're as good as you say you are, you'll find another job.

Then consider taking it. But if you do stay at your job, make sure you have a solid contract.

Some managers only respect you when they have to confront the possibility of losing you.
posted by musofire at 6:41 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

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