Sign-On, Spot, Retention Bonus Programs Are at an All-Time High

Use of bonuses increase as organizations seek other forms of cash compensation to reward employees

Percentage of Organizations Using Bonus Programs (Graphic: Business Wire)

WASHINGTON--()--Sign-on, spot and retention bonus programs are at an all-time high, according to a 2014 WorldatWork survey, "Bonus Programs and Practices." All three are significantly more common in 2014 compared to 2010, and referral bonuses are also on the rise. The downward trend in program usage for all four bonus programs measured — which began with the 2009 recession — has been reversed.

"The uptick in sign-on and retention bonus programs may indicate that the war for key talent could be heating up as the economy improves, leading to an increased focus on attracting and retaining employees," said Rose M. Stanley, CCP, CBP, WorldatWork total rewards practice leader. "In addition, with continually small incremental increases in merit budgets, spot bonuses may be a means to recognize talent for special excellence during the year."


A few highlights from the survey:


More organizations are offering sign-on bonuses and paying them at higher rates, with executives receiving the greatest amount (41% receive more than $50,000).

The average number of bonus programs offered by organizations is three – up from 2010's average of two programs.

"Organizations are using their money in very strategic ways," Stanley said. "Even though referral bonuses are still very important, it appears that organizations are focusing their strategies on attraction, retention and recognition through spot bonuses. Employers are using the sign-on and retention bonuses to attract and retain the talent that they need. They are targeting spot bonuses as an additional means to recognize employees that are excelling when other forms of cash compensation have been restricted."

Spot bonuses are most commonly given for special recognition (90%), going above and beyond (85%) and project completion (72%). (Figure 23.*) Nearly all organizations report that employees below upper management are eligible for spot bonuses. The number of spot bonuses awarded in the past 12 months has stayed about the same for 67% of organizations, with almost a quarter showing an increase. (Figure 27.)

Most employee groups are eligible to receive retention bonuses; clerical employees are the least likely but still eligible at 49% of participating organizations. (Figure 30.)


For the purpose of the survey, each type of bonus was defined as follows:


Referral bonus: a cash award paid to a current employee for referring a successfully hired job applicant.

Sign-on bonus: a cash bonus given at the beginning of a service period, usually for accepting an employment offer.

Spot bonus: a type of informal recognition that is delivered in cash, spontaneously or "on the spot."

Retention bonus: a cash award typically tied to the length of service or some other milestone.

Previous survey results:


April 2011

January 2009

August 2005.


*Figure numbers referenced are from the 2014 WorldatWork survey, "Bonus Programs and Practices."

About WorldatWork
The Total Rewards Association
WorldatWork ( is a nonprofit human resources association for professionals and organizations focused on compensation, benefits, work-life effectiveness and total rewards — strategies to attract, motivate and retain an engaged and productive workforce. WorldatWork and its affiliates provide comprehensive education, certification, research, advocacy and community, enhancing careers of professionals and, ultimately, achieving better results for the organizations they serve. WorldatWork has more than 70,000 members and subscribers worldwide; 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies employ a WorldatWork member. Founded in 1955, WorldatWork is affiliated with more than 70 local human resources associations and has offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Washington, D.C.


Melissa Sharp, 202-315-5565
Karyn-Siobhan Robinson, 202-315-5514

Release Summary

Sign-on, spot and retention bonus programs are at an all-time high, according to a 2014 WorldatWork survey, "Bonus Programs and Practices."


Melissa Sharp, 202-315-5565
Karyn-Siobhan Robinson, 202-315-5514