Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Tale of the Christmas Bonus

Gather 'round my friends, and let me tell you a tale from my corporate life long ago: the Tale of the Christmas bonus.

The year was 1987, and I was a production manager at the Financial Post in downtown Toronto. I was 24 years old.

Every year, the Christmas party took place the Friday payday before December 25th. I had only been in the job a few months, so I had no idea what to expect, or why everyone was so excited. I was soon to discover why.

Throughout the day, employees were asked to leave their desks, department by department, and gather in the corporate boardroom. All morning giddy people from marketing and editorial filed past our office, giggling and quite uncharacteristically jovial. Then it was my turn to walk down the deeply carpeted halls.

My co-workers and I were met at the boardroom door by well-paid carol singers (from the local opera company) and two elves (from accounting), who handed us crystal goblets of very rum-laden eggnog. We sipped away as we lined up with our co-workers in an orderly but increasingly chatty and rosy-cheeked rhumba line that criss-crossed the boardroom and spilled out into the hall. I peeked into the room over everyone's heads, and who did I see off in the distance, sitting at the head of the boardroom table? Santa of course (the CEO), and on either side of him were two more elves (Toronto police officers).

On the table in front of them were our gifts, in two large cloth sacks! But there weren't any bows or ribbons to be seen. No. Our gifts were in orderly, crisp white envelopes labelled with each of our names. And what was inside each of those envelopes, my friends? Our Christmas bonuses: one week's pay, in cash. You heard me. In cash.

Legend has it that there was over $250,000 cash in those bags that day, which I guess would explain the need for the Christmas Police Officer Elves.

I approached Santa, my rum-soaked voice managed a "thank you, Merry Christmas" as I staggered back to my desk with my bonus. Did I mention that it was in cash? I sipped my eggnog and got nothing done for the rest of the afternoon, like everyone else. In fact, I think most of us left work early that day, slightly hungover by mid-afternoon.

And that my friends, is the Tale of the Christmas Bonus, which I experienced only once and at the age of 24, since the next year they were cut. But they had been a long-standing tradition up until then, a holiday tradition at the company since the 1950s. I know it's hard to imagine in these meager times, where jobs are hard to find and the idea of a Christmas bonus of any kind may seem like the stuff of legend, but I assure you, it was real. It's hard to imagine that kind of corporate generosity now, but it meant a lot to the staff, to morale, to loyalty. It certainly meant a great deal to me and is one of the reasons that I'll always look back fondly at my days working for the Financial Post.

It was 1987, not so very long ago, and a tradition sadly lost to the mists of time. Luckily the tradition of eggnog survives. I think I'll make one now!

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