When owning a company you will be confronted with the decision of whether you should offer a pay raise for your employees or a bonus. We have broken down the pros, cons, and more in the article below!

As experts in the planning and implementation of incentive programs, we’re going to answer the questions of a pay raise vs a bonus.

To start with, here’s a quick answer…

A pay raise is a permanent increase in salary, whereas a bonus is a variable payment that allows employers greater flexibility in when to reward the employees. Bonuses can also be linked to performance or production such as increased sales, or manufacturing output which ultimately benefits the company as a whole.

Of course, there are some differences between performance vs productivity. There are also different types of bonuses that can be awarded. Non discretionary bonuses and  discretionary bonuses.

But here, we’re focussing on a pay raise vs a bonus, so let’s dive deeper into this subject.

Pay Raise Vs A Bonus – Defining Each Type

Let’s start with the broad definitions of each, then we’ll get into the pros and cons of a pay raise vs a bonus…

pay raise vs a bonus defining each type

Pay Raise

A pay raise is an increase in a person’s base salary, typically as a result of either performance or cost of living increases.

Pay raises are usually increased by a few percentage points, and are often given out annually or semi-annually.


A bonus is a short-term financial reward that you give to your employees based on their performance, accomplishments, special skills, or simply for their hard work.

Bonuses are often awarded quarterly, bi-annually, or as needed …depending on how often the company measures and rewards performance.

Generally, a bonus can range anywhere from 2% to 30% or more of an employee’s salary depending on how high the performance was and other factors related to the job.

There is no “one size fits all”. The bonus amount an employee receives should be commensurate with the value of their contribution and effort, taking into account market conditions as well as the company’s financial position.

So if you’re wondering which benefits your company, and/or the employee most, then it helps to understand the pros and cons of each.

Pay Raise Vs A Bonus – Pros and Cons

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of a pay raise vs a bonus

Pay Raises:

Pros – Pay increases motivate staff members to stay with your organization longer since they feel appreciated for their hard work.

Pay raises can also help retain top talent because they offer a form of incentive to stay and continue growing their career in the same organization.

Cons – Salary increases can be expensive for a business and may need to be budgeted for each year – or even more frequently – depending on the number of pay increases given.

A pay raise is almost always permanent, and they often increase pressure on the employee to deliver greater value.

Additionally, salary increases can lead to other employees feeling slighted if they feel that their performance is not being rewarded accordingly.

Pay imbalances are, in fact, quite common. Often company employees are required not to disclose their salary to their colleagues, which can also lead to mistrust in the company reward system.


Pros – Bonuses are much less expensive than pay raises since they typically only cover short-term accomplishments or performance. Furthermore, bonuses are often seen as rewards that boost morale and encourage staff members to work harder and strive for higher goals.

Cons – Bonuses don’t provide the stability or security that a pay raise can. Additionally, bonuses are often inconsistent and may not be given out on a regular basis, which can lead to resentment among employees who don’t receive them.

Bonuses also require careful budgeting in order to ensure they are affordable and feasible.

Finally, it is important to consider both options with each employee’s individual needs and circumstances in mind.

Both a pay raise vs a bonus have their own pros and cons that are also linked to the company and its industry. So it is up to the manager or business owner to decide what will be the most beneficial for the company as well as its employees.

Ultimately, by weighing all the pros and cons of both salary increases and bonuses, businesses can determine which form of compensation best suits their needs.

The best alternative to a bonus or a pay raise is structuring an incentive program, where good performance is rewarded, and paid if and when the company as a whole benefit.

Read our article on how to structure an annual bonus for more help. Or to answer some questions about bonus pay read here. 

What Is A Merit Increase Vs A Bonus?

Dictionary.com defines merit as:

“something that deserves or justifies a reward

or commendation; a commendable quality, act.”

In a business setting, a merit increase often simplified to a salary raise or adjustment, is an increase in an employee’s base salary.

This type of raise is usually given when the employer has identified a specific performance improvement or achievement from the employee and wishes to recognize it by increasing their salary.

Salary increases are typically based on criteria such as job performance, number of years worked for the company or competitive market rates for similar positions.

On the other hand, a bonus is a one-time payment given to employees in recognition of exceptional performance or service above and beyond what is expected.

Regardless of what you give and what you call it, both salary increases and bonuses can be effective tools to motivate and retain employees, but it’s important that organizations have clear policies and criteria to ensure they are applied fairly and consistently.

What Is A Bonus In Lieu Of A Salary Increase?

Taking the Merriam-Webster definition of “in lieu of” into account, a bonus in lieu of a salary increase is an additional compensation given to an employee instead of a raise.

It may be used to reward exceptional performance or provide recognition for employees who have shown outstanding results and contributions.

This type of bonus can help boost morale within the organization, as well as show employees that their efforts are appreciated.

Organizations should be aware of the tax implications involved with giving out bonuses in lieu of salary increases. Depending on the size of the bonus, it may affect an employee’s taxable income and total taxes owed.

Additionally, if bonuses are used to make up for a lack of salary increases also known as discretionary bonuses, employees may not feel valued or appreciated by their employers. This demonstrates that some incentivization schemes can have inherent flaws.

Organizations should consider these factors when deciding whether to give out bonuses in lieu of a pay raise.

In conclusion, bonuses in lieu of salary increases can help reward exceptional performance and motivate employees to continue doing their best work.

However, organizations should carefully evaluate the potential financial implications before making any decisions regarding this type of compensation.

In addition to providing bonuses in lieu of pay raises, organizations should strive to create a culture where employees are recognized and rewarded for their performance.

Check out our 10 reasons your company needs an incentive program.

So what should you be offering to your staff? What will ultimately work best?

Should My Company Offer A Pay Raise Or A Bonus?

Ultimately, this is a decision that should be made on a company-by-company basis.

We’ve outlined that there are pros and cons to both options and it’s important to consider each carefully before deciding which is best for your organization.

It’s also important to consider the long-term implications of either option, as well as any potential financial impacts. Contact us here to get further advice based on your circumstances.

By taking all of these factors into consideration, organizations can make sure they are making the best decisions for their employees without sacrificing the overall health of the business.

Do Employees Prefer A Pay Raise Or A Bonus?

The answer to this question ultimately depends on the individual. For some employees, a pay raise is preferable because it allows them to see an immediate and sustainable improvement in their financial well-being that will remain consistent.

A bonus, on the other hand, can be seen as a one-time reward and may not necessarily translate into long-term financial security.

However, bonuses are generally more flexible than pay raises since they can be tailored to specific performances or milestones achieved by the employee.

This is where the most advantageous method for all parties is an incentive program that rewards both staff and the company when targets are met.

Pay Raise Vs Bonus – Rounding Up

We hope this has answered the common questions around Pay Raise vs a Bonus.

Ultimately, the answer depends on the particular circumstances of your job and the needs of the company.

A pay raise is a great way to show your appreciation for an employee’s consistent performance, and it can help to ensure that the person continues to be a valuable contributor to the organization.

A bonus is a good way to reward someone for going above and beyond, but it may not provide the same level of long-term stability as a pay raise. When considering whether to give an employee a pay raise or a bonus, it’s important to gain as much insight as possible into your available options. So for the best way to incentivize your team, take a look at our live software demonstration

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