Is Your Bonus Attainable or Just a Tease?

Leigh Page

Disclosures

November 17, 2016

In This Article

What's an 'Attainable' Bonus?

The term "attainable bonus" might seem like an oxymoron, because it's well understood that many doctors will simply not attain it. But as far as an employer is concerned, even physicians who don't personally get a bonus still need to feel it's within their reach. As long as the bonus can motivate them, it's effective. But if a lot of physicians don't believe it's attainable, they won't be motivated, and the whole purpose of the bonus goes up in smoke.

"Ideally, the bonus threshold should stretch physicians a little bit but not be impossible for a reasonably hard-working, efficient doctor to attain," Hill says. "Of course, some physicians will decide that they don't want to work that hard, so they won't get the bonus."

Excluding employers who intentionally make bonuses unobtainable, Hill says employers want it to be achieved by about 75% of physicians who have been employed for at least 3 or 4 years. At that point, most physicians would (or should) have learned to work efficiently, he says.

In other words, the employer deliberately plans that 25% of its physicians won't get a bonus. Of note, this level roughly matches the rate of dissatisfaction with bonuses reported[1] this year by Medscape's Employed Doctors Report. That survey found that 23% of employed physicians were dissatisfied with their bonus structure, whereas 49% were satisfied.

Still, despite some grumblings among employed physicians, they've become accustomed to working toward earning a bonus. Merritt Hawkins reported[2] in 2016 that a bonus was used in 75% of the employment arrangements it was handling. Also, in a 2014 survey[3] of final-year residents, Merritt Hawkins found that nearly three quarters were seeking a salary with a production bonus. (When new physicians start the job, however, they usually have to wait 1 or 2 years before they're eligible for a bonus.)

Although experts such as Hill counsel that physicians shouldn't always expect a bonus, the amount offered can't be easily brushed aside. Hill says that a bonus should represent 20%-25% of the total possible compensation. On the basis of this formula, if the total possible compensation were $200,000, the bonus would be as much as $50,000.

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