Squirreling Gone Wild #30: The Elusive Bonus

Integrity is priceless. Most of us value ours, and choose to deal with others who also have it. This extends beyond personal relationships into business dealings as well.

This edition of the Squirreling Gone Wild series covers a time when promises were made about an upcoming bonus at work.  A number of folks got excited about it! However, things didn’t go quite as planned – for the employees who were so excited. This included me.


This occurred at a job I had in the 90’s. It was at a job not long after college, where I started in an entry-level position. The company was probably not a household name, but it was fairly prominent within it’s market.

Anyway, a group of us entry level people had been working a ton of extra hours. Now, we knew that there would be a period of time where this would be expected, but we were asked to work extra days and longer hours for more time that originally communicated to us.  Mandatory Saturdays made for 6 day weeks for some time, and it wasn’t fun. We were getting paid very little, but I was of course committed to working hard and getting whatever experience I could out of it.

Met some good friends there too. That tends to happen when you’re in an entry-level position with a number of peers at about your age.  We got through it with a lot of joking around about the circumstances.

The Carrot

After this period of mandatory Saturdays and extra workload dragged on longer than we expected, there came word of a potential bonus in the works.  We had worked really hard, so this was a nice incentive for a group of younger, hungry people out of college.  This bonus was the proverbial carrot dangled in front of us, as an incentive to continue working hard.

So, we were happy and proceeded to get that extra boost in motivation. We were under the impression that there would be a bonus, but there was no specific date given. Just words indicating that it was being worked on, the exact timing isn’t certain yet, etc.  Yet we just assumed that of course, it would happen.

As time went on, we started to wonder when the bonus would come.  We had poured our energies into our work, thinking that we were going to be appreciated and rewarded for our efforts – especially since we were told so. There was a spike up in motivation that they got from the group as a result of the expectation of the bonus. Yet where was the bonus? After a while a sick feeling began to take hold that we weren’t going to get one. It seemed unfathomable.

Finally, we got an email which addressed the topic. It had been months, but we were also separately told a date: November 1st. What a magical date, that November 1st would be!

The aforementioned email had a reassuring  comment that we have not been forgotten.

The Squirreling

November 1st came and went without a bonus. At this point, it was exasperating.

Now, keep in mind that we weren’t making much money, so the bonus wasn’t going to really be all that much money anyway. But at the time, it was kind of a big deal, and even if irrational – people thought they were going to get this money.

One guy who had quit had talked about demanding receipt of his bonus.  It caused some laughter among those hearing about it. Another guy, who was really nice guy but a hard luck person, kept on saying that they’ll probably give it to us. He seemed to think that these things just take time in some cases.

Wishful thinking. We never got the bonus.

Yes, it never happened! In fact, they never gave us a detailed explanation. Again, all kinds of rumors floated about the bonus ended. Whatever the case, substantiated or not, these rumors just fueled the disappointment people had.

Now, I can admit that actually did get some very good experience there, and worked with some pretty cool people. A group of us that were friends would constantly joke around about the bonus. Have to say, we handled it pretty well at the time. What else could you do, but laugh? And leave, which we all did. We could still get in touch on November 1st and crack a joke asking if they got their bonus today.

Might as well laugh about it, right?

My Questions for You:

Have you ever been misled or burned, expecting money but never receiving it?

Have you heard of situations where people didn’t get paid for a service or product?

While this example happened some years ago, how would you handle it if it happened today?


  1. says

    Oof… sorry that happened to you. I think most of us can look back at what got us started down the ‘right path’ to fiscal health – how did getting stiffed affect you? Is there a direct line to starting a web site, haha?

    1) Yes, but not by an employer. Note: careful who you lend to!
    2) All the time, including my college roommate.
    3) I’d hope I could handle it like he did – small claims court. He won a default judgment when the other party didn’t show. That email might have gotten you something!

    • Squirrelers says

      PKamp3 – Oh, it was no problem overall. Actually, it was a long time ago, in the 1990’s, so it’s something laugh about now :)

  2. says

    Wow that stinks. I had something similar happen a few years back. I was pulled out of my current job to go back to an old job and help out in the plant since they were struggling. I did some “back to basics” training since it had been a few years and people had gotten away from the “old ways” of doing things Right First Time, etc. On top of that, I resolved a few nagging technical issues and even came up with a proven way to increase capacity which should have meant millions of dollars per year to the firm if they implemented some simply improvements. As it turned out, the guy in charge that brought me back left the company and so did his direct report who I reported into next. So, I was kinda stuck with no way out. I finally had to go to the remaining sr mgt and say that my time was up and I should really go back to my old job since I’d gone above and beyond and spent 6 months in limbo in a temp position now with no leadership. They sent me back with nothing more than a pat on the back even though I helped turn things around and get their capacity back up.

    When that had happened in the past (when the production area was so screwed up they had to pull people out of their jobs to help), they got bonuses. Not me. Stinks, but hey, it kept paying the bills…

    • Squirrelers says

      Darwin – yeah, a pat on the back doesn’t seem sufficent in that case. In my case, thankfully it was at an entry-level job ages go.

  3. says

    I see that carrot metaphor happen to first and second year investment banking analysts all the time. They put in major hours every week. I mean something like 60 hours regularly with the thought of HUGE bonuses at the end of the year. The thing is, if they worked out the amount of time that they spend in the office, they were probably paid a much lower hour wage than the assistant that reported to them.

    Smart people in some ways, but not always so smart in other ways. When it comes to the carrot, I’m never motivated by it. A bird in the hand…

    • Squirrelers says

      Sandy – oh, I think that when it comes to regular work, it’s not ideal to chase carrots like that. I agree with you, a bird in the hand.

  4. says

    Well, today I probably would never expect a bonus, and a company would never offer one.

    Back in the 90s though, it was a different story. I worked somewhere where bonuses were quite common, if not expected for most successful project implementations. Had I been promised a bonus and the company never followed through, I probably would have updated my resume and started interviewing. The job market was pretty good back then, at least where I live, so I am surprised your employer pulled such a stunt. I am sorry that happened to you!!

  5. says

    Unfortunately, *expecting* anything other than what you are already getting seems dangerous for morale.

    With the investment bankers, I think they know they are working so much that their hourly rate is pretty low, but the idea is that if you can show you’re a harder worker than your peer, you’ll still be around in 5 years, hopefully with some management responsibilities and actual big bonuses.

    I also work in a setting where we have salaries, but are expected to work a lot of overtime – the more you work, the less you are getting paid each hour – but the better your metrics at year end, the better you can expect your pay to be NEXT year. This year I found out that, at least as a first year, that didn’t really hold true. They still are holding the carrot, by saying that in my 4th or 5th year, raises will really start to be bigger…

  6. says

    It’s too bad we live in a time where if it’s not in writing, it won’t happen. I’ve worked at a few places and the only employers I could trust with getting a bonus were the ones that did business with a handshake. It’s a bit old school but I’d rather work for a “handshake is your word” person. The rest were completely unreliable.

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