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Retention Bonuses: To Stay or Not to Stay?

It’s like your employer is begging you not to go

Professional woman in an office

Image courtesy of AllGo

With the rise of job-hopping, companies have started to get creative on how to keep their most skilled employees working for them. One of the ways employers have started incentivizing employees to stick around is by offering retention bonuses. So what does it mean for you when you’re offered a retention bonus? 

What is a retention bonus?

A retention bonus is money that incentivizes an employee to stay with a company for a certain amount of time. Some companies will use retention bonuses instead of salary increases because the cost to the, over time, can be less than providing a raise.

More money may seem like a win, but with a retention bonus, you really need to analyze the offer before accepting it. 

Why companies offer retention bonuses

Typically retention bonuses are given to senior leaders and key talent, as they are difficult to recruit and time-consuming to train. If there is a restructuring or merger, companies may offer a retention bonus to ensure that you aren’t going to jump ship.

Sometimes a company offers a bonus when an employee has received a new degree or learned a new skill and they want to ensure the employee stays, or if the company is in a competitive market and there are a lot of offers coming around.

Or, your company may offer you a retention bonus as part of a counter offer after you’ve given notice that you’re leaving

Read more: Reasons for Leaving Your Job: The Good, Bad & Messy

Read the fine print

Always read the terms of your retention agreement. It’s important that you understand everything that you’re being asked in exchange for the bonus. 

Is the bonus paid at the start or end of the retention period? How long is the retention period? (And are you prepared to stay that long?) If you were to leave the company before the end of the retention period, how much of the bonus would you be expected to return?  

Another detail to consider is taxes. Bonuses are typically taxed as income, so it’s important to consider whether the amount of money that you would be receiving after tax will be worth it if you were already looking to leave the company

How to negotiate a retention bonus

If you’re interested in taking the bonus but it’s not enough or you have terms you’d like to address, you can and should negotiate

You can ask for time to consider the offer, and then come back with your requests. You might negotiate for more money, a shorter retention period, a change in when the bonus is paid, or you might even request to forgo the retention bonus and request a pay raise instead.

Read more: Why I Quit My Job for *the* Job

Negotiating for more money

Thank you very much for your offer. It has certainly given me a lot to consider as I decide where to take my career. I would be happy to accept if we could increase the current offer by X.

Negotiating for a shorter retention period

Thank you very much for the generous bonus offer. I believe the amount is appropriate, though I would like to discuss the retention period. I would be more comfortable with an 18-month retention period instead of a 24-month period. Is this something you’d be willing to shift?

Negotiating for a pay raise instead

Thank you for the bonus offer. I want to be frank about my circumstances. I have been approached by recruiters at other companies and am considering offers. I would be happy to stay on with the company in exchange to a pay raise to X in lieu of the bonus offer.

If you’ve negotiated terms, be sure that your employer provides an updated offer letter before you sign anything. 

Read more: How to Negotiate Your Salary (For Career Newbies & Industry Vets)

To accept or decline?

It all depends on you. Is the offer enough to get you to stay? And if it isn’t, is your employer amicable to negotiation? If you’re already in a toxic work environment or ready to leave the company as soon as possible, money in your pocket might feel good now, but you may regret being trapped in an unhealthy work environment down the line. If it's time to leave, it's time to leave.

Read more: Should I Quit My Job? 4 Signs It's Time to Move On

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By Noelle Johnson

Contributor

Noelle Johnson is the owner of a career services agency and is a writer and speaker. She speaks and writes on career topics specifically aimed toward women and marginalized communities. She is a comic book aficionado and has yet to meet a bad action film that she hasn't loved.

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