Should You Give Your Staff Bonuses? How Much?

Greg A. Hood, MD


November 29, 2018

In This Article

Nonmonetary Gifts Can Be Trouble

Some practices have a tradition of giving physical, rather than monetary, gifts. Given the number of points that may be accrued in a credit card reward program from capital purchases or vaccine orders, this can be a nice, and less financially painful, way of budgeting for gifts. Using American Express points, for example, to buy items that are then distributed, rather than gift cards, can seem like a fun way to go.

However, there are substantial downsides to this effort. Some practices have let this method go to extremes, particularly when the number of points has become exorbitant.

Directly giving flat-screen TVs and other flashy items— or pulling staff names out of a hat for receiving such gifts—detracts from the meaning of the season, and the reasons for giving a bonus. Doing so may also engender hurt feelings regarding what was received, or envy among employees for what one received compared with another. There is also the potential for some gifts to be perceived in a passive-aggressive manner, even if doing so is inexplicable and unimaginable to you.

A process such as the one described above becomes cheapened and less genuine very easily, regardless of intention. The negative emotions that may be created among staff, even if never voiced, may last much longer than the flat-screen TV itself.

Another limitation of giving physical items (particularly ones bought by points, which are difficult or impossible to return) is the question, how useful is this item? Buying items out of obligation, without sensing what the recipient would truly find useful, devalues the intent—and the item may go unused or be regifted, passing the half-heartedness of the attempt on to another recipient.

In an economy in which most families have tight budgets, an unsolicited gift of an electronic item may be not unlike when Charles Emerson Winchester III, MD, on M*A*S*H apologized to a nun for trying to give the children an opulent dessert when they had not been able to have supper first.

Why Are You Gifting? Do So With Good Purposes

Further to the point, ask yourself, "Why am I buying this gift?" Are you truly conveying the desired intent of the bonus, or doing so again this year because you feel obligated? If the latter, it is time to have a summit with yourself and work through what it would take for you to feel that you are doing this because you want it to be a positive measure, a reflection of esteem for your staff, a recognition of value of service delivered, an opportunity to do something nice, and perhaps a way of recognizing the meaning of the season. If you are just going through the motions, it will show, and nothing meaningful will be gained for the attempt.

Conversely, if you truly know the person receiving the gift and think of a physical item, no matter how small, that would make a difference in their life, then the magnitude of the gift will greatly exceed the monetary cost. Again, it is the thought, intention, and effort that count. The only thing that will live on longer in memories than a thoughtfully chosen gift is a thoughtlessly chosen gift. Choose carefully.

This is a season of honesty and caring. If you are honest with yourself about what you can afford and why you are giving a bonus, then the results can work out better than might be expected. Done properly, your budget, your employees, and your spirit will thank you.

Editor's Note: Information in this article has been updated since the original post date of December 10, 2014.


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