Welcome to The 12 Days of Thatz Not Okay, a special holiday edition of a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Check back Monday for our next seasonal installment. As always, please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."
I recently put a down payment on an in-ground pool installation at my house. I am very excited for the spring and am having fun imagining all the family BBQs and parties we will have. The trouble is, I paid the down payment assuming I would get a nice Christmas bonus at work. I haven't heard anything from my boss about it and our last day of work before the holiday is fast approaching. I want to ask my boss about a potential bonus. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
Ninety percent of having a job is hiding the fact that you are an idiot from your superiors (6 percent is knowing the difference between CC and BCC and employing both judiciously; 4 percent is magic). For instance, my boss John Cook doesn't know I had to consult a private email to myself just now because I couldn't remember if the Gawker.com rule was "always percent, never %" or "always %, never percent." And he will never know, because he doesn't read this column. (Too busy hiding his own incompetence from his boss.) If he ever found out, I would be fired for incompetence.
The reasons you should not shake down your boss for a Christmas bonus are as numerous as the dollars you don't have that you spent to make your backyard less like a plate and more like a glass of water. Number one: He will think you are foolish and irresponsible for prematurely commissioning this expensive and gratuitous home improvement project. ("Our home may be humble, sir, but you must understand: We are proud. Not human trash who swim in above-ground pools." Why not just tell him you blew your last check on Beanie Babies?) Number two: The question will probably make your boss uncomfortable, and awkwardness is not a feeling you want to be responsible for inspiring in your boss. Number three: Nothing he said would change anything about your situation. You've put the down payment on the pool either way.
This may come as a surprise to you (as I imagine many things in life might, considering you are the sort of person who spends his time daydreaming about in-ground pools and then purchasing them with assets that do not exist), but your boss didn't just plumb forget to give you a Christmas bonus. At this point, I would assume that you aren't getting one. If, by some small Christmas miracle, one is coming, you asking about it isn't going to speed up the process or endear you to this man. What was your plan to tactfully broach the subject? Ask him what he wants for Christmas, and then add, "Personally, I'd love to get a much larger paycheck than normal—from you!"? Or just corner him at the company party ("So, uh...?") and stand silently with your eyebrows raised for the next sixty seconds?
The difference between a bonus and a salary is that your boss is only required to give you one of them around Christmas. Unless you have established (and met) specific benchmarks that trigger payment of a bonus, I wouldn't go inquiring about one. This is not to say that you don't deserve a bonus—you've sold more pools than anyone this winter! It's just how the payment system tends to work.
Just as an aside, I find it hard to believe that two adults (I assume there are at least two in the household since you use the first person plural, and installing an impractical pool in the backyard of a house where one person lives alone would be truly insane) deemed this project not just crucial, but urgent. Is there some reason why you could not wait until after the bonus was in-hand to make the down payment? Were you planning on breaking ground Christmas Eve?
When you tell this story in the future—maybe as some light dinner conversation at a barbecue in your mind—I would refer to this bad idea as simply "a pool." Tripping over yourself to convey that the pool in question was a high class in-ground pool ("Now, we're not talking some above-ground monstrosity. We are NOT poor. We CAN afford an in-ground swimming pool. Provided we get a bonus.") is a clear signal that you are unaccustomed to the level of luxury owning a private in-ground swimming pool suggests. It's gauche, like when people say "my Louis Vuitton purse" instead of just "my purse" or "Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow" instead of just "my friend."
Believe it or not, there is some good news here. For one thing, you're only out the down payment on a pool, rather than the entire cost of a pool you can't afford. You're also fortunate that you are able to have fun imagining all the parties you will have around the pool in your backyard since, for the time being, that's pretty much all you can afford to do.
However, short of doodling a picture of "The Perfect Summer Day" and offering to sell it to your boss for $1,500 (or asking if he'd like a drink refill at the holiday party and then slamming him with an exorbitant service charge), there's probably not much you can do here. Hopefully you didn't already apply your future kids' hypothetical Christmas bonuses toward a jumbo pack of purple foam noodles.
UPDATE: Out of all the Thatz Not Okay questions we have ever run, only a handful of askers (fewer than 5) have written back once the posts have gone up. Now we can add today's to the list:
Thanks for posting on Gawker! Made the afternoon here at the office.
The frame is obviously Christmas Vacation, but the non-bonus is very real. I assumed it wasn't OK to ask about it but now I can sleep soundly.