‘Tis the Season to be Jolly (or not)

It’s that time of the year again; Bonus Season – the only difference is this year I won’t be participating in the thrills of Chinese whisper-esque wild speculation in B-Day preamble, nor in the disappointment/ ecstasy (delete as applicable) and post B-Day shopping frenzy that marks the highlight (and potential lowlight in this year’s case) of a banker’s 365 day cycle. This year, I can only reminisce. 

This is the defining moment that will determine whether the next 365 day cycle will be Gucci or Gap, Porsche or Punto, relocate or renovate. Like a Sliding Doors for bankers. For the past 8 years I have revelled in the up-cycle and commiserated with the great, and the not so great, in less fruitful times. Incidentally, some years have been positively impoverished.

So with the annual welcoming of a new year, there is always the simultaneous ushering in of a renewed fervour over the imminent receipt of the proverbial fat cheque that will subsidise forthcoming school fees, tropical getaways and the like. Our bonuses were usually announced in Jan/Feb. However, the bonus pot was typically agreed and divvied up (and mentally spent) by end-December, so December (November for the super keen) was prime brown-nose season. Coinciding, rather conveniently, with Christmas bashes of varying degrees of mirth and subsequently, varying degrees of brown noses.

Approximately half of the business year leading up to last year’s bonus had been plagued by the crunch; yet, the former half of said year was a fairly jolly, quids-in type of affair. There was talk ranging from a heart wrenching zero bonus, to a rather zealous 30% up (self delusion, a wonderful thing), and everything in between. Hours of paid time were whiled away discussing the multitude of possibilities. Even more hours were whiled away inputting fictitious guesstimates into the in-house model provided for employees to calculate what amount of any imagined bonus would be paid in normal shares vs better-than-normal shares vs cash in hand.

 Finally the day arrives. Everyone is sitting primed at their desk at a distinctly earlier hour than the usual unearthly hour; all ramrod straight, staring with immense concentration at their screens without a discernible twitch. No one speaks. The desk head has been holed up in a box meeting room on the 4th floor (which was booked months ahead by the secretary who had to fight tooth and nail for it – one year, all bonus meetings had to take place in Starbucks owing to an ineffectual secretary) since 5.30am. Then the summonses begin in earnest. One by one the pilgrimage to the 4th floor is made akin to a death march and, just as quickly, they each return, A4 envelope clutched in hand, each avoids eye contact and resumes the previous pose, blank demeanour betraying neither delight nor devastation. Someone’s gone a long time and for a moment we wonder whether they have gone for good as a demonstration of their disgust, but it turns out he simply got trapped in the lift going up one floor.  

Then my phone rings – it’s my turn. Would I like to call a friend? If only. I’m in and out in 5minutes max. Cut the small talk there’s only one figure anyone is remotely interested in. Blah blah blah, bad year, blah blah, want to reward our good employees, blah blah – aaaagghhh. I assume my poker-face (I’ve never played poker) throughout the entire proceeding; automatically recite my rehearsed disappointment speech (as I did the year before and the year before that) then make a sharp exit. I make a beeline for the ladies loos as always, lock myself in a cubicle, review the paperwork (one boss told me the wrong salary figure one year – seriously), then compose myself accordingly. The first year I broke my self-imposed mental glass ceiling I jumped up and down in my cubicle doing a silent scream. This time really wasn’t so bad (in light of the hype); yes it was down, but it wasn’t a doughnut (zero). Perhaps they were being nice to me to avoid hysterical pregnant woman scenario. Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t sell myself short. Regardless, I couldn’t jump up and down for fear of inducing an early labour but I was perfectly content. I still remember it warmly.

Perhaps this year I should enquire whether I accrue a bonus while on maternity leave.

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