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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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So today is numbers day (see background), the day when those of us in the money-moving business look for validation. We look for validation in terms of raises and promotions, but more important we focus in on the (not-really-a) bonus. For those of us that are cost centers, we look for something to make up for the difference between what we’re paid and what we think our work over the last year was worth.

Of course, this number is seldom satisfying to anybody, because they figure there is still a difference between that and their actual output. No matter what anybody says, I’m pretty sure you could give an inexperienced hire straight out of undergrad a million bucks, and they would expect two million next year. I coin this difference in expectations the live-weight gain triangle (for the employer), a synthetic quantity of free labor that I’d talked about in the past. Of course, the size of this triangle varies quite a bit between what an employer thinks an employee is worth, and what an employee thinks an employee is worth.

So I was talking about being unhappy. Of course, people can always tuck themselves in at night in these situations by saying "you know what? They will make up for it with next year’s bonus. Or, they say “I’m quitting right now, and getting out of this place that doesn’t appreciate me” or something similar. All of this is easier said than done, and delusion is perhaps the easiest thing to secure on the street.

But, at the end of the day, it’s still numbers day, and a little later is payday, the material representation of this. I didn’t know what to think about my numbers last year. I know what to think about by numbers this year … in two dimensions. I now have a sense of what I should be worth to the bank, and what an appropriate amount would be to show good faith for me to continue to work here. This is more something I measure intrinsic in myself and my work, and it is expressed in terms of dollars. That I can think of my career and myself in those terms is a little disturbing, but I think as long as I maintain my current career direction, it will be necessary. Secondly, this combines with the current market rate for both inexperienced and experienced hires, and with quiet discussions throughout the year with various people about what one should expect for a bonus as a percentage of their salary, given a certain performance level compared to one’s peers. While nobody wants to talk about compensation, everybody has an opinion, and those that have been around for a while at least have some metrics.

This reminded me of a story from last year. During my bonus discussion in 2004 with my boss’ boss, I was asked what I thought of my bonus. I said “I don’t know what to think, what should I think?” I was told that “that was pretty good, and I should be happy.” About eight months later, once I was no longer working for my former boss, I was driving him to the car dealership. Out of the blue, he said “sorry your bonus sucked so much last year — that was pathetic.” I was thrown by the whole thing, since I thought of it as bonus, not as something for which I should feel some sort of entitlement.

Entitlement.

For something extra.

Right, I’ve said all of this before.

I’ve written this before my closed-door meeting, and I’ll use it to reflect once I’ve opened the gray envelope, I suppose. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t know that I care that much. Time to practice my poker face… Really, I just hate the way it makes work especially miserable for about a month as everybody moans about their bonus that is coming, and then moans about the bonus they got, moans about hating their jobs, and moans about leaving. Then, the rest of the year, they moan about how good their bonus better me. I’d love to say I’m immune to it, but the cancerous climate has taken hold of me just as much as the next guy. The only happy people I can find are contractors, which don’t have to worry about bonuses.

Funny that.