The holiday season is a great time for many financial professionals. There’s plenty of fun around the office and possibly shorter workdays and a holiday bonus. You can expect a lot of gift-giving and of course, the holiday party. Here are a few things to remember about office etiquette during the holidays.
If you are lucky enough to be at a firm that pays out a holiday bonus here are a few tips. For tax purposes, bonuses are considered supplemental wages by the IRS, taxed at a rate of 25%.1 There may also be state taxes levied on top of this. Further, don’t freak out if the net amount is much less than you expect. According to TurboTax, taxes may be withheld at a higher rate than your actual rate so you may get some back in the form of a refund.2
Some finance professionals are trying to delay their holiday bonus payments until next year, when a potentially more friendly tax environment may be in place. This assumes that president-elect Trump can get his tax cut proposals through Congress.
Consult your tax professional to see what strategy is best for your situation. If you do receive a lump sum payout and not a combination package, a piece of advice many financial advisors offer is to resist the temptation to invest your entire bonus at once.
Wall Street holiday bonus numbers aren’t in yet for 2016, but the New York State Comptroller’s Office indicated that it could be down 2.5% from 2015 levels when the average holiday bonus in the security industry was $146,200.3 That estimate would put the 2016 number at $142,545. The Comptroller’s office watches the security industry numbers closely because a strong year for bonuses means more discretionary spending statewide and tax revenue. They report that “for every job on Wall Street, two are created elsewhere in the economy”.4
Bankers can expect the worst hit areas to be equity underwriting (down 15%-25%) due to a slower advisory and M&A calendar in 2016.5 The real concern comes from U.K. investment banks in the wake of the Brexit vote.
These surveys were done prior to the presidential election, so it is possible that the year-end market rally could put firms in a more giving mood. Given the continued run in the equity markets, asset management firms may fare the best. When the numbers become available in the spring from the state of New York, we will report them.
Finally, it is no secret that financial professionals love talking about their holiday bonus levels almost as much as getting them. Resist the temptation to comply with this long-standing tradition. It puts you in a no-win situation; it can breed discontent amongst peers as word inevitably travels throughout the office. Worse, it can irritate your managers and show a lack of control.
Gifts for your Boss
Office gift giving has always been a source of confusion and even anxiety. First of all, if you already provided a gift to your boss on October 16th (National Bosses Day, yes it’s a thing) then you really don’t need to get them another gift at Christmas and a nice card will suffice.
But if you are going to get a holiday gift remember these guidelines. Don’t give money or even a gift certificate if you are gifting up the chain to a boss or superior. Etiquette dictates that managers should give gifts to their employees, not the other way around.
Of course, every corporate culture is different and some employees get their bosses gifts. If your office is one of them, join along. You also don’t want to be the only one of a group of associates that did NOT get the boss a present. It could send the wrong message when you weren’t trying to send one at all.
If you are a manager and are gifting to a subordinate some acceptable workplace gifts include food (gift box for the family) or a book (make it a well-thought-out choice).
What About Alcohol?
There are mixed thoughts about giving alcohol as a gift. Most etiquette professionals frown upon it given all the associated baggage.
But again, knowing your own culture best, use your best judgment. If you know your boss is a spirits drinker, feel free to get a bottle of Irish whiskey, scotch or bourbon. Don’t go top shelf nor bottom of the line. Try a middle ground bottle from a unique distillery. And try not to give the gifts in the presence of others, if you can grab a coffee in the lobby or some other locale.
Finally, if you are a front office professional that depends on support staff, don’t forget them during the holidays. This is where you should be focusing your gift giving efforts.
If you are a stock broker or trader and depend on the services of the back office to optimize your business you want to keep the happy. If you actively hedge portfolios or engage in short selling, you will need them to help you locate and borrow the securities for the transaction. And when markets get choppy, they may give you preferred treatment when it comes to unpleasant situations like buy-ins or margin calls.
It never hurts to keep compliance personnel on your side. Having a compliance department that is routinely on your case is a tough hurdle when trying to ramp up your production numbers. Finally, administrative or support staff won’t make as much as most front office professionals so they will really appreciate the gifts.
The Holiday Party
Party culture has changed from the heydays of wild Wall Street events including fantastic parties at places like the Waldorf Astoria hotel, Le Cirque, and even the U.S.S. Intrepid. But since the financial crisis, it is seriously frowned upon to have a boisterous gala, especially if you were involved in a bailout. Officially, many firm-wide parties have simply been canceled or toned down. So instead of Smith & Wollensky’s, you could end up at Brother Jimmy’s.
Others will have family-style functions that are dry.
At the insurance company The Hartford, alcohol must be approval by an executive in charge. And that executive is ultimately responsible for any conduct at said event. They even face disciplinary action, including termination, from inappropriate behavior by an attendee.6
Unofficial Holiday Parties
There is no stopping people from going out for an unofficial party on their own dime. These smaller holiday ‘parties’ are an excellent chance to get to know your superiors outside of the office and you need to attend. The department head or managing director will pick up the tab for his or her group, but make sure you at least offer up a contribution. It is very important that you attend these smaller gatherings. It is a great opportunity to get to know some of your superiors, who you don’t get to see outside of normal work hours.
If you want to have a social drink or two, fine. Many employers will even provide transportation home in the form of a car service or even a bus. This perk often leads people to believe that they have a free pass to get trashed. It doesn’t, and you could be ‘trashing’ your career.
This is especially true with the ability of a compromising picture or video to hit social media with the click of a button. Don’t be that guy (or gal).
Current management will remember your behavior after drinking and this could affect your ability to get a promotion in the future. You could be tasked with wining and dining clients and they will want someone who can handle themselves professionally. This is especially true if you are in a more behind the scenes position such as operations or compliance and are trying to get into a more client facing role.
There have been many holiday party disasters. On one occasion, Masters of Finance member Ray Dalio reportedly went out drinking on New Year’s Eve with his boss. Supposedly, after some cocktails, they allegedly got into an argument and Ray punched him — not something you want to do.7
Yes, Mr. Dalio was fired from that job at stock brokerage firm Shearson Hayden Stone. These things can happen to anybody if you have too much to drink. Luckily for Ray, he was meant to venture out on his own and soon founded what would eventually become Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. But you shouldn’t bet on mimicking that feat.