First, if you're making decisions about who gets rewarded, executive coach Guy Hatcher said you should try to be as fair as possible.
He said it's best to create a bonus system that is transparent and known throughout the company, so there are no secrets.
"I have a bonus pool that we put together and everybody understands how it works," Hatcher said. "Everyone is weighted on their efficiencies and there is no doubt how or why someone is rewarded. This is a very positive way to reward a job well done."
Tim Scudder, co-author of "Have a Nice Conflict" and author of "Becoming a Leader We Need with Strategic Intelligence," said expectations about how one can earn a bonus should be laid out at the beginning of the performance period.
"There should be a clear system where people know what to do to get one and know what to do to increase the size of one," Scudder said. "There may be some things that are tied to the team and some tied to the individual, but list them on a poster and put it where everyone can see it. Then you'll know 'if we achieved these goals, we can celebrate.' "
Scudder said when there's secrecy surrounding a bonus, that's usually because the amounts are unreasonable or subjective and due to favoritism.
Hatcher and Scudder agreed that if you receive a bonus and there has been no prior discussion about bonuses in the office, it's best to keep it to yourself. But if a co-worker who didn't get a bonus finds out about yours and confronts you, Scudder recommends you handle the situation in one of two ways.
"You could say, 'I didn't realize you didn't get a bonus. Boy, you should have — let's go together to talk to the boss about how these decisions are made,' " he said. "But there is a risk involved in that because if you are dealing with a favoritism system, you might change what list you are on."
The other choice, Scudder said, is to encourage your co-worker to address the bonus with the person who makes those decisions.
Hatcher agreed, adding, "If you have a concern or feel slighted, go to the manager" and ask if they really meant for you not to receive a bonus.
Scudder said going directly to the manager or executive who gave the bonus is much more productive than taking your anger out on the person who received one.
"People are feeling threatened and there are issues around job security, so you have every right to ask why someone has been rewarded," Scudder said. "And go in with a list of why you deserve (a bonus). If you have proof that you contributed too, you have nothing to lose, and you may come out rewarded as well. They may not know all you've brought to the table."