San Diego Business Journal

More than enjoying a few extra days off, many employees look forward to the holidays because it brings a little more cash in the form of year-end bonuses.

In San Diego, a random survey of several industries shows the tradition of a Christmas bonus is alive and well, with some sectors feeling particularly cheerful.

"We've had a very good year. We've achieved profitability, and our people met or exceeded the expectations that we've set for them," said Larry Hartwig, the chief executive officer at California Commerce Bank in Escondido.

While the bonuses at the 2-year-old bank haven't been set and won't be paid until January, Hartwig said he plans to provide a bonus to all his staffers with the amount based on percentage of their annual salary.

"It will likely be in the range of 12 to 20 percent," he said.

The securities/investment world has traditionally rewarded workers with year-end bonuses based on the firm's overall performance and how individual employees contributed to its success.

Bob Lakosil, branch manager for Piper Jaffray's office in University Towne Centre, said the company's annual bonus pool, decided by the Minneapolis-based firm's management, hasn't been determined yet, but whatever the amount is, all 13 of his staffers will receive something.

The specific bonuses are based on a review process Lakosil conducts with each of his employees. The amount is more dependent on the overall pool of bonus funds distributed to the office and is not connected to annual salaries, he said.

Although many companies still provide flat bonuses to workers at year-end, the trend is to make annual awards based upon an individual employee's performance during the year, according to a survey done by Hewitt Associates, an Illinois-based human resources firm.

A survey released last month by Hewitt found 59 percent of businesses responding said they do not provide workers with a holiday bonus. However, 78 percent said they do make performance-based bonuses.

The trend is evident in San Diego, where those companies awarding bonuses are usually tying the extra remuneration based upon an employee's contributions during the year, said Brett Good, district president for Robert Half International Inc., a Menlo Park staffing firm.

Locally, many companies operating in several fast-growing industries are giving their employees bonuses that are, on average, 5 percent to 10 percent above what they paid last year, Good said.

He cited companies in real estate development and construction; biotech; and high-tech as paying out bonuses that are generally tied to the workers' salaries, ranging between 5 percent to 12 percent of their annual pay.

The extra pay is often being distributed beyond the top management ranks, Good said. "We're seeing the awards go deeper into the staff."

The improved profits enjoyed by San Diego's hotel industry this year should cause many operators to share some of it with their staff, said Bob Rauch, co-owner of Homewood Suites by Hilton in Carmel Valley.

"At every hotel I've ever worked at in my 30 years in the business, they usually gave something at this time of the year," Rauch said. "Some give a turkey, some give a turkey and cash, and some give just cash."

Rauch said because things have gone so well at his new 120-room hotel that opened this past summer, he plans to award appreciation bonuses to all 32 of his employees. He said the bonus amount would be tied to the hotel's overall profits, and likely be in the "hundreds of dollars."

Because most San Diego-area hotels did well this year, with average room rates increasing and vacancy rates declining, Rauch said he expects most hoteliers to provide some sort of extra appreciation to their employees.

Year-end bonuses don't always come in the form of cash.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global accounting firm based in New York that has a San Diego office, all of its employees will get the week between Christmas and New Year's off with pay.

Richard Kalenka, managing partner of the local office, said this is the second time that the firm is shutting down its offices and awarding its workers what amounts to four days' pay.

"We recognize how hard our employees have worked over the past year in this time of increased regulation and shortened deadlines for those involved with public reporting companies," Kalenka said. "Their jobs are more pressure-packed and intense than ever, so this is our way of giving back to them and recognizing their contributions."

PricewaterhouseCoopers saw its annual revenues rise about 17 percent to $20.3 billion this year. Kalenka said the company also has a performance-based bonus program that provides awards based on an employee's annual salary. The amounts vary but can be as high as 20 percent of an employee's annual salary, he said.