Good news for workers: Bonuses are back

For employees hoping to receive a fatter paycheck, the recession and its aftermath were bleak times. Companies pulled back on bonuses and lavish perks. Budgets for payroll increases were slim, meaning raises were often slight and hard to come by.

But new survey data from WorldAtWork, a nonprofit association for human resources professionals,  offers promising news for workers looking to pull down more cash. According to the report, companies are implementing bonus programs in 2014 more frequently than they were in 2010, the last time the organization surveyed employers about this topic.

Use of all varieties of bonuses—referral, spot, signing and retention—have increased, with particularly dramatic upticks in the use of signing bonuses and retention bonuses.  The chart below shows the details:

Courtesy of bonus Programs and Practices survey from WorldAtWork.
Courtesy of Bonus Programs and Practices survey from WorldAtWork.

While referral bonuses had reigned supreme in the survey for more than a decade, they were easily outranked this year by signing bonuses as the most popular form of award. And many of these signing bonuses provide far more than a little extra pocket change. In fact, some 41 percent of employers offering this perk reported that they paid executives signing bonuses that exceeded $50,000. Another 12 percent reported paying sums that high for upper management.

Retention bonuses also saw a big leap in usage, with 51 percent of companies implementing them in 2014, more than double the percentage that were doing so in 2010.

The study also found that 29 percent of respondents said they are offering all four varieties of these bonuses, a big jump from the 9 percent who reported doing so four years ago.

It seems likely that there are two key reasons why employers are upping their investment in bonus programs. As the national economy improves, companies have renewed confidence that they’re on safe enough financial footing to offer this perk. And it’s also likely a sign that the competition for top talent is intensifying as workers, too, feel more confident about the job market and are willing to jump ship to other opportunities.

It’s too early to know whether salary increases will also get a bump in 2014 amid an improving economy. Forecasts from organizations such as Society for Human Resource Management and the Hay Group suggest that salary increases will likely hover around 3 percent this year.  It won’t be until 2014 draws to a close that we’ll have reliable data on what kinds of raises employers actually ended up doling this year.

Sarah Halzack is a reporter and Web editor for Capital Business. She covers the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She occasionally writes for other sections at the Post, most frequently in the form of dance reviews, dance features, book reviews and obituaries.
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