2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on how to respond to a good bonus, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.
How do you respond to a generous year-end bonus — after all, yippee is out. So how do you professionally respond to a good bonus? Here’s Reader C’s question:
I am a young lawyer, and have worked at my current firm for 1.5 years. This year, I got a generous bonus. I’d like to know what the etiquette is for responding to the bonus. Is a thank you note for the 5 partners appropriate? an in person thank you? or nothing? The envelope the check is in says “Merry Christmas -The Partners”. It is a small firm (10 lawyers, 5 partners) and I have a good relationship with the partners but would feel a bit awkward going into their offices and closing the door, just to say thank you. What about a small gift from the senior partner and his wife, (think chocolate)?
I looked in the archives for an answer to my question, but wasn’t able to find anything on point and would really like to hear any tips on this!
You and me both! I still remember the big BigLaw bonuses before the recession, and I will always remember getting my biggest bonus (back in January 2008). We all knew the number before our individual reviews — bonuses were lockstep with class year, and a memo had been circulated to say my firm was matching the going market rates. Still, when my reviewer said, in a very cursory manner, “Your bonus is $80,000 this year,” and I tried to graciously say “thank you,” it was followed by an awkward, cringe-worthy pause from both of us. It just felt SO little-girl/feminine and not at all what a Captain of Industry would say. I imagined men saying something like, “Well yes, I earned it!” or “Wonderful, I can make the next payment on the yacht!” or perhaps, “Bully, let’s all go play golf!” But not “thank you.”
In my former firm, thank you notes would certainly not have been appropriate — lockstep bonuses, lots of partners, all just part of doing business/part of your compensation. For my own $.02, for I would think a thank you note would be inappropriate even in Reader C’s situation, where it may have been a personal bonus for her, and it is such a small firm — I think just continuing to do good work is the appropriate response (if not stepping up your game further). So, ladies — how do you respond to a good bonus?
Incidentally: at my firm, we always got our bonuses in January, and the rumor around the firm was that if you set your 401K contribution to 25% (the highest option we had), you’d ultimately save money. I’ve always wanted to talk about this on the blog but haven’t quite gotten around to calling a tax professional to research whether there’s truth behind it. My understanding today is that while bonuses generally are withheld at a higher rate than regular salary, at the end of the year it’s all taxed as income. So I think the only real benefit is that the the bonus money you “save” from withholding does has a chance to be invested (by you) and grow, rather than be held by the government until tax time. Readers, do you have any tax tips re: bonuses? What do you like to use bonuses for? What’s your best advice for how to respond to a good bonus?
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