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Bonus Grants: A Creative Way to Retain and Reward Key Employees

Last Updated on December 2, 2021 / Benefits & Compensation

HR Question:

I’ve been asked to look into how we can use bonus grants as part of our retention strategy. Can you help?

HR Answer:

Changes in the economy – as well as clashing generations in the workforce – have altered the employment landscape. Gone are the days of someone retiring after 40 years with the same company. Job hopping has become the norm, and in the war for talent, top performers are regularly being courted by the competition.

Organizations need to implement new and creative ways to keep their key employees – and keep them happy. While salaries are generally staying level, more employers are focusing on bonuses as a way of rewarding employees. But traditional bonus programs may not be good enough anymore. Enter: The bonus grant.

Bonus grants are different than conventional bonuses in that they are a commitment that the company makes to key employees. Instead of earning raises and/or bonuses that are paid out annually, key employees accrue larger bonuses over a longer period of time. The company also has the option of tailoring the program to the individual employee to provide the most appropriate benefit.

While there are many advantages associated with implementing a bonus grant program, the following are the three most significant:


Most bonus programs are paid in the year they are earned. While this may immediately inspire feelings of gratitude and loyalty, the effect quickly wears off. With bonus grants, key employees are credited a certain bonus amount each year, but they are not fully vested until a specific date determined by the employer (usually 5-10 years). This is a terrific way to help ensure retention because if an employee leaves the company, they are walking away from the bonus account that was set up for them.


Unlike salary raises that commit employers to funds that they may not be able to spare in the future, bonus grants provide companies the flexibility to determine how much – if any – money is given to a specific employee based on their individual performance, as well as the company’s performance that year. Employers can set a different percentage or flat rate for each employee in the program, and these numbers can vary from year to year at the employer’s discretion.


There are different types of retention tools and tactics in the marketplace, but most are complicated and difficult to understand – for both employers and employees. A bonus grant program can be very straightforward. By keeping it simple, key employees will easily understand the value of the benefit being offered, and the company leadership will understand what they are committing to.

Is a bonus grant program right for your company?

Here are some questions to ask when deciding whether a bonus plan is right for your company:

  • Are you having issues recruiting and retaining key employees, or competing with larger companies for employees at the executive level?
  • Do you wish to provide specialized forms of compensation to key executives or employees in lieu of making them partners or part owners in the business?
  • Is your ability to offer a more robust benefits package to high-performing employees hindered by your business’ lack of free cash flow?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, a bonus grant program is worth exploring.

Thank you to our CSH colleagues, Bill Edwards and Lance Drummond, for contributing to this HR Question of the Week.

There is some strategic planning involved in setting up a bonus grant program, but our skilled colleagues at Clark Schaefer Hackett can help your organization set up and administer one. If you’re looking for a creative way to hold onto your best employees, a bonus grant program may be something that sets your company apart from the competition. For more information, please contact us.