It will come as no surprise that money is a great way to keep staff engaged – but you may be surprised by some of the ways top firms find to distribute it.

Paying competitive salaries is a must these days, particularly now that salary surveys like Robert Half’s annual report set widely known benchmarks for compensation. To go beyond that, firms have found a remarkable number of ways to top up that base pay.

  • Hiring bonuses. These can be paid on signing, or spread out over a probationary period. One variation is the clothing allowance – giving entry-level hires a sum of money to buy the basics of a professional wardrobe.
  • Employee referral bonuses. Most of our 2015 Best Firms to Work For reward staff who help fill open positions, usually after a probationary period.
  • Client referral bonuses. Whether as a percentage of revenue generated over a certain period (often three years) or a flat sum for new business over a certain amount, many of the Best Firms to Work For offer incentives to staff who help identify or land prospective clients.
  • CPA Exam bonuses. These take a number of forms, from cash to pay for test prep and exam fees, to rewards for passing any or all of the parts of the exam. Our favorite take comes from Barnes Saly & Co., a Best Firm to Work For in Pennsylvania that gives employees a generous lump sum for test prep – but lets them keep any amount they don’t use after they pass the exam.
  • Metric-based bonuses. Money can be award based on hours worked, realization rates, or just about anything else that can be measured, whether it’s tied to the individual employee’s performance, or that of their group or the firm as a whole – or some combination of those. Many of the Best Firms to Work For have profit-sharing plans based on the firm achieving certain goals.

Beyond all those, post-tax season bonuses are popular, as are discretionary and “spot” bonus programs that allow partners and managers to reward great achievements, behaviors and results, whether as part of planned awards or spontaneously. Atlanta-based Best Firm to Work For Bennett Thrasher, for instance, has a spot bonus program called DOTS (for “Doing Outstanding Things”) where associates can earn bonuses for “extraordinary measures,” while at James Moore & Co. in Gainesville, Fla., partners can award employees “Above and Beyond” bonuses of from $50-$1,000 in cash to recognize extraordinary effort. And at Torrance, Calif.-based PDM LLP, employees can get surprise bonuses for “going beyond the call of duty” that can include cash, extra time off, or an all-expense paid weekend vacation.
Other spot bonus programs include instant rewards for employees whose service is positively commented on by clients; for non-marketing employees who make special efforts in marketing; and for employees who know and can repeat the firm’s mission or vision statement.

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