Year end gamble: office party or bonus or celebrating yourself

The end of the year is fast approaching.

You are probably tired as you read this, some of you will be exhausted because it has been that kind of year. I know I am. But you can’t give up yet, there’s still all the usual formalities to get through; the office Christmas party, the notes to clients… and the annual bonus.

It is a difficult issue, perhaps the worst corporate minefield of the year. There is a widespread expectation in South African companies that there will be a 13th cheque or Christmas bonus. In many cases, employees depend on them; to pay off existing debt, pay the kids’ school fees or their stationery for next year. There are Christmas presents to buy and, if you’re lucky/unlucky an end of the year holiday or trip to family that you pay for.

office party

Company bonuses

In most cases, bonuses have to fund all of this, but sometimes companies just can’t afford them. During Covid-19, this was understandable because those were extraordinary times that needed extraordinary measures, but we’re past the pandemic now.

The harsh truth is that sometimes the reason why companies can’t afford bonuses is looking straight back at you when you look in the mirror. Did you show up this year, lead by example or did you inspire? The fact is that the employees can’t do it all by themselves. They need to be led – or at least shown the direction to go in. Did you create an enabling environment? Did you mentor the people you expected to perform?

It’s a very difficult question to ask yourself as a business leader, but you must if you have any aspiration to being an inspirational and highly successful CEO? And, if there was going to be any doubt about the company’s ability – or willingness – to pay bonuses, why didn’t you have the conversation honestly and authentically with your employees as far back as September so they could make an alternative plan?

It’s another tough question to ask yourself and if it applies to you, it’s something to put into your 2024 diary as part of your to do list if the team hasn’t hit their targets by the middle of Q3.

Ask the tough questions

But while bonuses are important from a physical cash point of view, they also mask another very important factor that can get lost in the hurly burly of life. Does your company do enough to recognise the efforts that your employees put in. Do you regularly affirm them? Do they feel that their voices are being heard and that they are being seen?

If you haven’t already, you need to develop a system that ensures the whole employee is welcome. In all their quirkiness and weirdness. By doing that, you encourage them to contribute beyond doing what is expected. You allow them to innovate and find solutions before you were even aware there were problems. By truly including them on a day-to-day basis, you get to a stage where discussions about bonuses become organic, rather than dreaded and hostile stand-offs.

Companies don’t exist in vacuums and nor should employees. The global health crisis might have passed but economic conditions are still tough. Employees should be trusted enough to be told when the company isn’t meeting its targets. When they know the company isn’t doing well and that this will impact their bonuses, you’ll often find that they will find ways of committing to do more to address this.

Enough of the self-flagellation. Looking after employees is very important, but your health; mental, physical and emotional, is even more important. How are you going to spend your end of year break? It’s difficult, but you need to be able to switch off and forget the balance sheet for a couple of days or weeks. Reflect, think about the things that worked and those that didn’t; capture what made you happy and what didn’t. It is a very good idea to write them down, for two reasons.

Write down what’s important to you

The act of writing is both a physical form of thinking as well as a very useful tool for memory. When you go back to these thoughts three months, six months or even a year later; sometimes the events do not appear as bad as you thought at the time. Alternatively, they could have been far worse than you remember. It’s vital to remember because it helps us recalibrate by providing perspective. That is what this time is for, but make sure you use it too to reconnect, with yourself and your family. Take a walk, switch off your cell phone, be present with your loved ones.

Most of all, make memories that will last and that will get you through the hard times. Give a little love, it really does go a long way.

I wish you all a very merry and blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.

Lucia Mabasa expresses an expert opinion in this article

Lucia Mabasa is the Chief Executive Officer of pinpoint one human resources. An executive search firm, established since 1999. The core business of pinpoint one human resources,  is the executive search of C-Suite executives, critical and scarce skills across industries, sectors and functional disciplines in South Africa and across Africa.

Read her previous columns on leadership; avoiding the pitfalls of the boardroom and becoming the best C-suite executive you can be.

This article was published in IOL.