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Happy Horror Pay and Season’s Mistreatings!

Many of us comp professionals are in the throes (or about to be in the throes) of base pay increase/ incentive communication and delivery season. I could be another voice in the crowd and tell you all the ways you can execute this process and communication like a boss, but what fun is that?


My brain was at serious risk of turning into oatmeal after a gingerbread latte-laced, Lifetime-channel-holiday-romantic-movie bonanza weekend (don’t judge). Oh sure, I could have AED-ed my brain back from that black hole by applying my purely-entertainment-derived-wisdom to the meaning of life, but I don’t think many people would have tuned into THAT blog. So, here we are.


Many of us comp professionals are in the throes (or about to be in the throes) of base pay increase/ incentive communication and delivery season. I could be another voice in the crowd and tell you all the ways you can execute this process and communication like a boss, but what fun is that?


Instead, I’m going to tell you some of the ways that this process can go spectacularly sideways. And when I say sideways, I mean this might get messed up so badly that your beloved employees will take the creative approach to expressing their disdain by twisting treasured holiday greetings into pure, passive-aggressive mockery. Is your process going to drive your employees to such lows that they will be wishing each other “Happy Horror Pay” or “Seasons Mistreatings”? If you follow my list of seasonal faves on messy employee communications, you might just see some of this magic at your organization.

It’s Not Me, It’s Them


This is the conversation where a manager tells their direct report “I really wanted to give you more, but HR/Director/Executive/[insert anyone or anything but me here] wouldn’t let me do that.”

In what reality is there any benefit to even saying this? It doesn’t change the truth of what their allocation is so it only proves to be detrimental in the long run. The employee ends up thinking, if it’s true and you have no control, why are you the one called “manager” and sitting here telling me about my pay?


Next Year, for Sure!


Maybe this one really hits a nerve in me because I live in the city that is home to the Cleveland Browns (you know, as in next year never happens). This statement sounds something like “I know this is really not what you’re expecting, but next year things will be better and I can make it up to you.” The point is that 10 million things can happen in the next 365 days so how could anyone possibly promise that? Why sit on a throne of lies? Sure, an employee is going to wait around for that to happen — if by some unfortunate circumstance they’re still trapped in the same job next year.



That one time a year that a manager becomes the company’s single busiest employee — that is, until after the base increase or bonus hits your paycheck. But as soon as it’s paid, they magically reappear and creep up on employees and shout as they pass by “Oh hey, if you have any questions about your base pay increase/bonus, let me know.” Casper’s got nothing on these folks.

Fair, Schmair


Your organization is progressive. Managers get to allocate their budgets as they see fit. Problem is that instead of using that discretion to recognize their team in a thoughtful way, the budget was spread like peanut butter (get it – smooth?). Three percent for all!!! Who cares about fair? One employee worked until her eyes bled while her coworker left 18 times a day to be anywhere except at their desk working — but it’s totally fine!

It’s a Wonderful Life


“…so let’s talk about that instead of how your bonus was determined.” Oh sure, there was a meeting scheduled with the specific purpose of communicating my base pay increase or bonus but the topic only came up in the last three minutes  — and the only information given was the amount and which paycheck the payment will be in. I like to call this the “putting up appearances” play. Yes, the communication meeting was scheduled — check off that box — but nothing of substance (or actionable) was actually discussed. What a chicken (bock bock bock)!

Thanks a Latte


In a lean budget year, the sheer panic of having to tell anyone they got a big fat zero meant the company put together merit increases or bonuses that, after tax, were the equivalent of the cost of one latte per month. Sure, some will say something is better than nothing, but really? Wouldn’t it be better to target those dollars in a meaningful way?



How does it feel to know that employees will be spending days if not weeks contemplating what exactly the payouts are going to be? Oh yeah, there’s CSI-level sleuthing from all corners of the organization to try to get a read on what’s coming. The anxiety hits a crescendo just weeks before payouts and there is virtually no work happening anywhere. Why? Because no one has received a well-organized, direct and transparent peep from leadership about performance or comp plans since the beginning of the year. All that wasted productivity time …


How could I possibly end this blog without hearkening back to Clark Griswold, Cousin Eddie and the membership to the Jelly of the Month club? If your goal is to have your employees ranting that you are “cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing”… you get the idea … then be sure to use some of my communication tips (and many more) this base pay increase and incentive allocation season!


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Tell Us What You Think


What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard during a conversation about comp? We want to hear from you. Share your story in the comments.


Image: Pixabay/Pexels

Michele Kvintus
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