You know what’s bullshit? Bonuses. More money for workers is always good, but it’s far less good when it comes in the form of a conditional infusion of cash that only serves to keep employees on edge in the long term while making employers look like generous trickle-down angels in the short term. Remember Dirty Dancing? The only reason Johnny slinked away quietly (at first) was to get his summer bonus. Or how about BuzzFeed’s piddling $250 Christmas bonus—which, after taxes, might pay for a fancy dinner but is far less than, say, the 3.5% yearly raise a union could mandate?
Sometimes bonuses are even used as a low-risk, high-reward political weapon. Take, for instance, Bank of America. The company, citing the monstrous tax bill Congress just signed into law, has pledged to give 145,000 employees who make less than $150,000 a year a $1,000 bonus in 2018. That seems nice, until you remember that the company got the Christmas gift of deep and permanent tax cuts.
So why not give employees a permanent raise?
Let’s do the math. These bonuses will only cost Bank of America $145 million, which seems like a lot until you notice that, according to CEO Brian Moynihan’s memo, the company made $15.7 billion in profits in the first three quarters of 2017, 14% more of which it will now be able to keep. With“one-time” bonuses, there’s no obligation to keep up the farce of benevolence once the tax bill transitions from political football to part of everyday life. And they draw attention away from the fact that, despite enormous tax gains, employees’ health insurance premiums will remain unchanged.
Christmas bonuses are the paycheck equivalent of free caviar tartlets: You eat them once, and then they’re gone.