Whatever Happened to the Holiday Bonus?

Plus, what to do if your boss won’t give you one.


My disappointment is profound and my rage knows no bounds: Despite my dad always getting an annual holiday bonus before he retired a few years ago, I have been notified that holiday bonuses are apparently not much of a thing anymore, and therefore, I will not be getting one (and Christmas is forever ruined).


To figure out where I should direct my intense anger, we enlisted HR expert Terry Petracca to provide a brief history lesson on holiday bonuses, which apparently includes the fact that they were overblown to begin with. “Holiday bonus mythology is strong this time of year, so I’m glad you asked,” she says. “While there’s survey data from 2015 indicating that 80 percent of companies give holiday bonuses, I’m not sure that’s accurate. Instead, I think there’s a lot of confusion about gifts versus awards that needs clearing up.”

“Most companies provide bonuses to their salaried, exempt employees,” Petracca continues, “but not necessarily to their hourly, nonexempt workers. And some companies that talk about holiday bonuses are actually talking about year-end bonuses that are typically tied to business and individual performance. Come December, the company generally knows what the payoff looks like and may either pay the entire amount or a portion as the ‘holiday bonus.’ In fact, I used to work for a company that paid 60 percent of its annual bonuses at the holidays — it added to the happy holiday feeling — and the remaining 40 percent at the beginning of February after the books closed for the previous year.”

As for real, festive holiday bonuses, Petracca explains that those usually come in non-monetary form. “True holiday bonuses tend to be found at holiday parties (e.g., gift certificates, wrapped grab-bag presents and/or company swag), where good will and celebration are combined to show employees how much they’re valued for their hard work throughout the year,” she says. “I’ve found this to be particularly true with small businesses that tend to treat employees as family. I’ve also worked for a company that made contributions to local charities instead of doling out small holiday bonuses because they felt it better reflected the spirit of holiday giving.”

If your company refuses to indulge in holiday bonuses, meanwhile, Petracca suggests coming up with some creative ways to spice things up over the holidays. “If you work for a company that doesn’t have holiday bonuses, bring the holiday cheer to your teammates by starting your own intra-office holiday traditions, such as instituting a white-elephant gift exchange or volunteering together at a nearby soup kitchen,” she suggests. “Or consider expanding your horizons globally in the new year by seeking out job opportunities in the many Latin American countries where a 13th-month holiday bonus is tradition.”

Welp, guess I’ll be off to the airport now.