What Should I Do if I Don’t Receive a Holiday Bonus?

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You’ve been waiting all year, eagerly anticipating your holiday bonus. Once you have the envelope in your hand, you can hardly contain yourself as you open it. But then, the amount is not what you expected. Or even worse — you don’t get a holiday bonus at all. What should you do?

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“First, consider the context of the bonus,” said Adrienne Couch, a human resources analyst with LLC.services. “For example, the year has been tough with inflation, expected recession and increasing interest rates. So, it could be that the holiday bonus was little because the company may not be doing as well and is still struggling. Second, you need to recognize that a bonus is a plus and feeling entitled to one could be more harmful. Bonuses are issued at the employer’s discretion and are just a boost or perk, not a necessity besides the salary and allowance.”

Once you’ve considered those things, here’s what you should do next.

Take a Deep Breath and Collect Yourself

“It can be a heart-pounding moment to say the least when expectations aren’t met, especially where money is concerned,” said Jen Pinto, an experienced certified career coach with over 20 years of human resource experience. 

“You’re upset or feel undervalued or taken advantage of. You think to yourself, I put in all this effort throughout the year just to be disappointed. This is the time to acknowledge how you are feeling about the situation, take a deep breath, and determine if the situation is something you can live with or if you want to address it,” she said.

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Act in a Timely Manner

Pinto said that if you decide you’re not OK with not receiving a bonus or receiving less than expected, you should address it within the same week. 

“If you wait too long, with the holidays and people taking vacation, you may not get the adjustment until after the new year,” she said. “Schedule a time within the week to speak with your manager. Let them know that you would like to discuss your holiday bonus.”

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Pinto said it could play out something like this: “Hi XXXX, I would like to put some time on your schedule this week to talk about my holiday bonus. Honestly, I didn’t expect not to receive one or to not receive my full bonus. If we can go over how the amount was determined and how my accomplishments were factored in so I can better understand how the decision was made, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for understanding and taking the time to review with me.”

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Come Prepared With Facts

Pinto said you just give yourself at least a day to prepare for a meeting with your manager. 

“Be realistic and objective,” she said. “Reflect on the accomplishments you’ve had over the last year and the value that you’ve added to the company. Also reflect on the setbacks that you have had. You want to ensure that you are looking at your year of performance as objectively as possible. Capture any wins somewhere so you can reference it during the meeting.” 

Have the Right Mindset

If you’re having negative thoughts about not receiving your bonus, it’s important to adjust your mindset — especially if you know you’ve done a great job.

“You don’t want to go into that meeting with a mindset of ‘they are trying to take advantage of me,'” said Pinto. “That will fundamentally change the dynamics of that interaction. You want to go in with an appreciation mindset of, ‘They might have mistakenly missed some of my contributions’ or ‘I may have not fully communicated my accomplishments to my manager,’ or ‘My manager supports me and is my advocate.’ In the few occasions when this is not the case and your manager really isn’t on your side, changing your perspective will not in any way weaken your message. What it will do is help to keep you calm and composed.”

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Have an Open, Empathetic Dialogue

“Habit 5 in Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ is ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood,'” said Pinto. “I would leverage that mantra during this meeting. You want to actively listen to how the process was determined. Does it seem equitable? Does it seem thorough? Did they take into account your full year of performance both the accomplishments and the setbacks?”

Pinto said that once you understand the process used to determine your bonus, you can respond. She said that if some of your accomplishments were not mentioned, you should bring them up. 

“Be specific around what the accomplishments were and how they positively impacted the company (e.g. reduced cost or increased revenue),” she said. “If it all seems on the up and up, thank them for taking the time to go over it with you and ask them for advice or guidance on what you can do to attain your full holiday bonus for the following year.”

Pinto said the dialogue may kick off something like the following: “Thank you again for meeting with me. I was a little nervous about the situation and wasn’t sure how to bring it up. While I’m appreciative of the company, the team and you, I was just honestly caught off guard with the holiday bonus. So I decided rather than just simmer on it, I would ask for your guidance and support. I want to make sure I fully understand what happened, if there is anything that can be done to adjust it and what I can do moving forward to reach my full holiday bonus potential.”

Pinto concluded, “Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, thank them for their time and hearing you out. Also take a moment to thank yourself for having the courage to advocate on your own behalf.”

Things To Avoid When Meeting With Your Manager  

Pinto said your actions and what you say can make a difference in how the meeting goes with your manager. Here are some things she recommended avoiding during your meeting:

  • Comparing yourself to another team member or bringing up another team member
  • Insulting the manager
  • Being judgmental
  • Making it personal
  • Raising your voice
  • Continuously cutting off the manager mid-sentence

What To Do After You’ve Met With Your Manager

“After all is said and done, you have a decision to make: You have to determine whether you are satisfied with how things played out,” said Pinto.

“If you are, then take your learnings from the experience and apply them. Make sure you advocate for yourself more throughout the year and that you are consistently meeting expectations required to attain your bonus. If you are not satisfied, then you have to determine if this is the right team and/or company for you. If it’s not, then you want to proactively identify the type of company, team, manager and culture you want to work for and seek that out.”

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About the Author

Cynthia Measom is a personal finance writer and editor with over 15 years of collective experience. Her articles have been featured in MSN, AOL, Yahoo Finance, INSIDER, Houston Chronicle and The Seattle Times. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
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