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Thursday, December 21, 2006
Jelly of the Month Club
Some families have normal Christmas traditions like attending midnight mass or going caroling on Christmas Eve. In my family, we have a tradition of sitting down on Christmas Eve as a family and watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Okay, so we are a little weird. Some watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” – we watch Chevy Chase.

If you are part of the 1% of the US population that has never seen this movie, the basic premise for the main character (Clark Griswold) is that he has ordered a pool to be put in at his house and is expecting his Christmas bonus to cover it. When the Christmas bonus doesn’t materialize, he goes postal and his caring brother-in-law (played by Randy Quaid) kidnaps the CEO of the company and presents him to Clark so Clark can evoke his revenge. The CEO’s wife comes to the rescue after the SWAT team invades the house and makes her husband reinstate the Christmas bonuses for the company. All ends happily.

Where am I going with this? Yesterday, I was watching Fox News and they reported the average Christmas bonus for workers on Wall Street was over $100K this year with the chairman of Goldman-Sachs receiving a whopping $53M bonus check in his December paycheck envelope. Holy cow! Maybe I should have paid more attention in Business Math in college instead of thinking of how to get four people in my Honda CRX to go to Florida for the weekend.

Where did the Christmas bonus originate? I know most people expect one of some kind. Executives and six-figure professionals usually negotiate bonus structures during the job offer process. As someone who is self-employed and has been for many years, my idea of a Christmas bonus is for December to be crazy-busy rather than being its traditional slowest month of the year for our industry. A bonus to me is to have the opportunity to work my tail off during December.

Self-employed people and entrepreneurs understand that. We tend to see the concept of the Christmas bonus from a different perspective. Just what are Christmas bonuses anyway? Honestly, they are really some sort of profit-sharing mechanism instead of a reward for good work over the year. I say this because how many slackers do you work with who also get a Christmas bonus, maybe even a bigger one than yours? It’s not quite fair, is it? So a bonus isn’t a reward, it’s an accounting thing.

The majority of those who receive Christmas bonuses have come to expect them. As Clark Griswold says “It’s part of our salary. Families count on them.” Is that a good thing, though? We expect extra money just for breathing and being with the company?

Several years ago, I went on a month-long trip to Eastern Europe. We were waiting to board a train and already knowing what the facilities on the train were like, I decided to go to the restroom at the station before boarding. I went in and the worst Amoco station restroom you have ever seen had nothing on this in terms of filth. I held my breath and got finished as fast as possible. As I was leaving, there were two ladies sitting at a table by the door accepting tips. I asked my interpreter if I had to pay to use the restroom and she said no, but it is customary to tip the ladies who take care of the restroom on your way out. I told her “I’m sorry, but this capitalist pig from America believes in getting paid for actually DOING something. These restrooms haven’t been ‘cared for’ in months. I will not reward someone for poor performance or no performance” and I walked out without dropping any change in their bowl. My interpreter said something the two ladies but somehow I don’t think it was a translation of what I said.

My point is these two ladies were expecting a bonus regardless of performance. Their entire job consisted of sitting at this table all day accepting tips for just being there. No doubt they were drawing a salary from the train company, too.

This year, as you receive your Christmas bonus, think about what it means and what you have done to actually earn it. If you feel a little niggle of guilt in your heart, I’m sure the Salvation Army, Red Cross or USO would be happy to receive a guilt offering to make you feel better.

November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 /


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