Personal Finance

It's holiday bonus season — here's who could get rewarded

Key Points
  • In an extremely challenging year, some employers will stretch their resources to offer year-end bonuses, following the lead set by Target, Walmart and others.
  • For the companies that cannot afford to give out holiday bonuses, expect to see other perks, such as flexible scheduling benefits and paid days off.
Will Wall Street bonuses take a hit in 2020?

Target, Amazon and Walmart announced they will pay special bonuses because of the heavy toll the coronavirus has taken on its hourly workers. Not all employers will be as generous in 2020.

"Employees should not expect a holiday bonuses this year," said Rhiannon Staples, a human resources expert and chief marketing officer at Hibob, an HR technology firm.

And yet, many people could use the extra cash more than ever.

As cases of coronavirus rise and states enforce even greater restrictions, nearly half, or 42%, of U.S. households said their income is still below pre-pandemic levels as a direct result of the outbreak, according to a recent report by

While half of all households saw their income take a hit at some point during the pandemic, only 1 in 6 said their take home pay has returned to normal, or pre-pandemic, levels, Bankrate found.

Even those that are still employed are likely working fewer hours or with less pay, particularly in hard-hit industries, such as leisure and hospitality, arts and entertainment and retail.

"The folks that remain and doing more work for less and need more recognition or reward," said Ruhal Dooley, a knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management.

The folks that remain and doing more work for less and need more recognition or reward.
Ruhal Dooley
knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management

In response, employers may stretch further than they have in previous years to show appreciation during a difficult time, according to Catherine Hartmann, the North America rewards leader at benefits consultancy Willis Towers Watson. 

"This year, with many workers going the extra mile, placing themselves at risk, and keeping the economy moving we do see specific companies, including big box retailers, grocery stores or food industry companies providing holiday bonuses to keep in step with the "big guys" and recognize the important role these workers have played in 2020," she said.

Alternatives to cash

For the companies that cannot afford year-end gifts, many have already increased other benefit offerings to account for the year's challenges, said Hibob's Staples, including provisions for home-office equipment, paid days off, more flexible schedules and a greater number of personal care and wellness resources.

Going forward, expect to see increased emphasis on flexible scheduling benefits, she said — "2021 is all about flexibility."

Google explores offering flexible work-from-home options after the pandemic

Top companies, including Google, Twitter and Facebook, have already said employees can voluntarily work from home for an extended period — or even permanently — and more are expected to follow.

Although that may not be as immediately gratifying for workers under financial strain, it does mean less time and money spent commuting and a better work/life balance, Staples said.

"There is value in those perks."

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.