Use of performance related bonuses

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Clearly an outcome of our performance appraisal software is often a rating that our clients use for pay or bonus calculations.  This use of our services together with a strong personal interest in the effects of bonuses on people’s motivations keeps me looking out for evidence on whether performance bonuses work and how they are perceived.

In the Observer (UK Sunday paper) yesterday there was a small article highlighting that particular government departments had paid average bonuses of £19,000 per annum to middle management.  Now the article was not linked to performance appraisals nor would you expect it to be but the thrust of the article was that in the current climate – both economical and politcal – these bonus payments were high.

The question for me is are they truly bonus payments – are they somehow linked to performance (individual or organisational) over and above the call of normal practice.  In a business, I believe it is right that if the organisation has a great year with great profits that everyone should share some of that financial success with a bonus payment.  Why should the shareholders get all of the rewards?  In the public sector this is harder to establish.  I suppose efficiency gains could be used but that appears a dangerous path – cutting costs is easy, but sustaining a service at the same time is harder.

My other concern drives from whether a bonus is truly motivational.  I suspect it rarely is.  In general people in the private sector have greater job insecurity and so higher risk which leads to some idea that a bonus in the good times makes sense but I believe it rately motivates them on a day-to-day basis.  In the public sector, those risks are reduced and a general bonus for all is less appropriate – if there is money around put it in the basic pay and then use management methods to ensure effective performance.

I have steered clear in the above analysis of individual’s bonuses.  Performance appraisals often look to determine who should get what bonus but my experience is that organisational influences drive the majority stake in performance review bonuses anyway.


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