Agony Aunt Jackie Elliot on the knotty subject of the annual staff bonus

The chairman of Cathcart Consulting gives her verdict on your professional conundrums.

Jackie Elliot
Jackie Elliot

Not always a bonus

What are your views on the subject of an annual bonus for staff?

Plenty and probably controversial. First of all, a bonus should not be guaranteed. How can a core compensation package include a guarantee of something that is based on collective (the company’s) and individual (your) future performance? Core compensation is what you get for doing your job; a bonus is what you get for doing the job well. That said, it is unlikely you will be able to do your job well without the help of many others throughout the organisation. And if the company is successful because of that collective effort, then everyone should have a share of that success. Equally, the ‘eat what you kill’ approach to bonuses breeds a culture of grabbing selfishness and conflict.

Finally, too many companies fail to be transparent about how bonuses are calculated or the goalposts are moved as you close in on them. A bonus should make you feel proud, happy and rewarded. Sadly, too often it is a cause for disappointment, envy and grumpiness.

A social muddle

I am exhausted and confused at having to manage my personal social media output on a daily basis as well as my company’s. It is difficult to keep separate and distinct tones of voice and I seem to be increasingly blurring the gap between myself and the company. Any advice?

You are suffering from channel crash. If your job is to manage the company output, that comes first and your output must obviously reflect only the company’s brand and point of view. You could follow Ed Sheeran’s example and stop looking at the world "through a screen": embark on a new regime of direct and personal communication and follow the advice of one of my favourite UK PR agency MDs to "pick up the bloody phone". You will get your own personality back and get to know your connections much, much better.

The business of management

Our company uses the European offices of one of the better known international networks. The people are OK and most of the offices do reasonable work. My concern is over the layers of charging that emerge, and increase, every time we have the annual budget discussions. We seem to be paying more for ‘inter-office management and cross-border co-ordination’ than we are for media relations.  Are we doing something wrong – or are they?

It is whispered in dark agency corners that the two most profitable words in international public relations practice are ‘management’ and ‘co-ordination’.   

In fairness, in return for these charges, you are presumably receiving high quality cross-border delivery of programmes with all country differences ironed out or accommodated, no media or channel duplication or conflict, no disparity in public comment and instant distribution of new learning, feedback and results – as well as a single reporting line that enables you, with just one phone call, to find out exactly what is going on in any one of your local markets?   

Are these costs saving your own people time and effort – or would you be better off asking your offices to manage the process? Do you want co-ordinated communication or can you accept local differences? Are you getting value for these costs? Do you need all the information? If not, ask the agency to change.

Got a problem? Contact Jackie at

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