One of the good things about my company is that, through good and lean times, they maintain a certain level of compensation. In the good times, we’re underpaid and they rely on a friendly, laid back company culture, great hours, excellent benefits, educational stipends and paying out bonuses in increments over time to retain employees. In the lean times, they try their best to maintain this minimum level of pay and so far has only stopped matching our 401Ks and cut our annual educational stipend in response to the current economic environment. We’re on a hiring freeze, but we did not rescind any of the thirty something offers we extended back in fall and have not had any pay cuts or layoffs (not any major ones anyway). In fact, this year, they’re even giving out bonuses to reflect profits from the better half of 2008 (though they made sure we knew that next year will probably not be as jolly). It’s not a bad place to be during the lean times.

Even in a friendly and laid back company culture however, office politics exists. There will always be those sneaky few that one should always be careful of – especially during bonus season. Bonus season is like high school when your grades come out. Everyone clamors to know what everyone else got, because their “happiness” with their own grades depend on how they did relative to everyone else. Most people grow out of this and realize that how one feels about their own achievements should not be measured relative to how other people did.  Or rather most people know that this is how they should feel now as mature adults and desist with the whole competing thing (or go about it much more discretely).

But I guess some people never grow out of high school. The day after we got our bonus, I got instant messages from two of my colleagues. Colleague #1 was fairly harmless. He asked me if I got within such and such range, and left me alone after that. Colleague #2 was much more persistent. He asked me outright, “I got XX%, do you mind sharing what you got?” I told him I was uncomfortable sharing my number with him but that I was happy with what I got. Unfortunately he didn’t get my not-so-subtle hint and persisted with, “Oh, does that mean you got more than the average of XX?” I told him that it was open to interpretation and that it could mean that I got less, the same or more than the average, and logged off at that. I guess no one taught him the art of social finesse and that talking about money- especially with someone who so obviously does not want to talk about it- is taboo.

It is not that I’m deliberately being mean and secretive for no reason. It is just that I’ve talked to enough people to know that “thou should not give away your bonus number,” because it is a lose lose situation whatever bonus you got. If you got less, than the other person will feel unnecessarily smug and superior about themselves and we all know that a number does not signify all. If you got the same, this will not affect you immediately, but be ensured that this number will go beyond the person you tell and not all bonuses are given out equally. If you got more than the other person, than you don’t want to make them feel bad about themselves and thus jealous of you. This can cause a lot of trouble later on. Usually people who know that they got more than everyone else tend to play it down and avoid the topic, because one should always avoid an outright lie if possible, since they will come back to haunt you. Later I found out through the rumor mill (the much more discrete way of competing) i.e. from someone who accidentally saw the breakdowns earlier in a meeting with my manager, that colleague #2 actually got a lot more than the XX% he mentioned. Now we all know that he is a sneaky liar. See what I mean about lies coming back to haunt you?