Will Flat Bonuses Prompt 'Foot Soldiers' To Flee ?

Yet another bonus survey has been released this week. 2004 bonuses are expected to be flat, but staff expectations remain high - especially after the performance most firms were able to put in during the first half.

Top performing credit derivatives traders can expect bumper bonus payouts in the millions and M&A dealmakers who have brought home the bacon this year will also be well rewarded. The fixed-income boys, however, will probably see their bonuses coming in light this time round.

But the reality is that most staff who work in the financial markets couldn't care less if a few traders or M&A bankers can afford to buy yet another large house or a newer, bigger flash car. They couldn't give a damn if the fixed income guys have to tighten their belts and are only able to sip expensive champagne five days a week instead of seven.

The vast majority of staff are mere 'foot soldiers' - they put in long hours, work hard undertaking unglamourous roles and only want to be paid fairly and receive a decent bonus at year end. But most of the foot soldiers will probably feel a little hard done-by on the bonus front this year.

Not because they don't understand that revenues and profits have dried up as the year has unfolded. They mostly do. Not because they can't appreciate that their firm needs to keep a firm handle on costs. They will. But, because disappointing bonuses always get paid to other staff members: 'I'm bound to be recognised as a key performer and they will reward ME well' will be the attitude. Truth is, everyone who has done a decent job this year will think that they will be treated as an exception. But it just won't happen. Try as they might, firms will just be unable to keep everyone happy.

And a fairly disappointed general workforce, combined with a market which now shows signs of genuine recovery, can only mean one thing - after this year's bonus round staff are likely to examine their employment options. When the cash is in the bank, firms are starting to worry that many of their people will seriously consider a job move.

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