Christmas Bonuses: The Last Frontier is Google

shadowy people walk past a Google signCould 2010 be the return of the holiday bonus? Recent news says, "maybe." Google employees won't get a turkey (or if they have, that memo hasn't yet been leaked), but they will be getting a $1,000 holiday bonus in addition to the generous performance-based pay increases of up to 10%. Oh, except for this one guy (or gal? It's not clear). He's the one who leaked the internal memo to Silicon Alley Insider. He has been terminated. Happy Holidays!

Will Google's bold not-quite-so-confidential step lead others into the great old tradition of holiday bonuses? Khan Manka, Jr. of Manka Bros. Studios obviously thinks so. He's doing Google one better (literally), offering senior management holiday bonuses of $1,001, and raises of 10.1%. A great equalizer for the rank and file, it's not; but it's certainly better than a Walmart coupon.

But ask most of us worker bees if we're expecting a Christmas bonus this year and you're likely to get a sigh and a nostalgic look. For most of the last decade, the holiday bonus has been going the way of the rotary phone.

it wasn't always that way. Weeks after I graduated from college, I became an investment banker. Having grown up in a family where a Christmas box of food from a church charity was more likely than a Christmas bonus, I had no idea what to expect. I had heard that bonuses were a-coming, and I had Herb Althouse. A managing director in our group with long experience in the business, he'd taken me under his wing, but it was always hard to know what was a joke and what was serious. He told me that, for a bonus, I'd probably get $500 and a turkey. I thought, maybe? The turkey was a joke? I sighed, and went back to work, expecting anything from that to the moon. For me, the moon was $15,000.

Christmas bonuses really don't exist in investment banking; most of them are paid out in late February or early March. In January, I sat at my group managing director's desk and almost cried with surprise when I was handed a piece of paper with my bonus figure: nearly double the moon, my bonus equaled the full amount of my annual salary.

There was no turkey in my letter, a good thing, as I was single and a turkey probably wouldn't have fit in my ill-used apartment oven. And since then, I've often wished for a Christmas bonus in the classic sense, although it seems to have dwindled since 1995. Over the last decade, performance-based bonuses have become scarcer, while the holiday across-the-board bonus, the great employee equalizer along the lines of Scroogedor Christmas Vacation has all but disappeared. Hey, we have credit now, right? Oh... wait...

Since the turn of the millennium, $500 and a turkey would be amazing. Early in the decade, $25 gift cards to Walmart were the prevailing incentive on one discussion board. In 2006, an informal Slate survey offered up the Scroogey-est Christmas bonuses, including a painter's cap reading, "Bah, Humbug!" and a 20%-off coupon for Walmart employees. The same year, 39% of small business owners said they rewarded employees with a Christmas bonus. Things were looking up despite the looming recession in 2008; 42% of companies in a Hewitt survey said they were providing holiday bonuses (though 16% of those were food only).

With the terrible reality of the prolonged downturn feeling weighty in 2009, employees were simply happy to have a job; a Christmas bonus was the relief of not receiving a pink slip. Many employers said they were decreasing or curtailing bonuses and holiday parties (though more, interestingly, said they'd provide alcohol at celebrations than the previous year: sorrow-drowning, perhaps?).

Has your employer promised a holiday bonus? Are you expecting more or less than last year? We'd love to hear; but please don't send us your confidential memos. We like our readers fully employed.
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