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How faux bonus news should be delivered.

Stephenson Harwood has apologised after it announced bonuses for lawyers working in its Singapore office, then gave them far smaller ones.

Staff were told to log on to the firm's internal system to view their bonuses and pay rises in June.

A source said lawyers then received calls from the partners confirming the figures "and giving the obligatory 'thank you' for the office doing once again the best financially out of all offices in the SH network".

When payment day rolled around at the end of July, "the numbers written for our bonus payments did not", said a source.

Instead they were all paid "significantly less" than the promised figure, less than half as much in some cases, said insiders.

Partners remained silent on the shambles, although staff did receive a verbal apology from HR.

Martin Green, Stephenson Harwood's Singapore office managing partner, said, "We regret that a number of associates from our Singapore office were initially given incorrect information about bonus payments, which suggested that the bonus they would receive was higher than was actually awarded, and we appreciate the impact it has had on them".

He said the mistakes were the result of human error, "for which the affected associates have received a full and unreserved apology; it shouldn't have happened".

"We are carrying out a thorough review of our processes and will be implementing changes to our approach, to ensure that nothing similar happens in the future", said Green.

Stephenson Harwood made headlines around the world in April when RollOnFriday revealed its plans to pay lawyers less if they continued working from home. The impact of this mishap will be smaller, and limited to Stephenson Harwood lawyers seeking to downgrade the hotel rooms, handbags, heels and golf clubs they purchased when they erroneously believed they'd be swimming in it.  

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Anon 19 August 22 08:50

I would be completely f**cked if this happened at my firm.  I almost always spend my bonus before actually receiving it...

Anonymous 19 August 22 08:56

As a general comment (based on my firm rather than SH), cock ups like this would be less likely to happen if Managing Partners actually did what they are supposed to do. Instead of spending time on ingenious wheezes to extract more profit for themselves. Or wandering around the office with a stupid grin on their faces pretending to be everyone’s best friend. 

Sensible 19 August 22 09:03

What “process” is there to review? Aren’t we talking about maybe a dozen people?  

Presumably the process is somebody transcribes numbers from a spreadsheet…

Not good 19 August 22 09:08

Something here doesn’t add up. Why would HR go and give them much higher bonus figures than what actually ended up getting paid? They would have simply been passed that information by the partners. Sounds like they reneged on their promise and played the associates like a fiddle.

Look out HR 19 August 22 09:19

We will examine our process.

And that process will be found to have been the result of poor HR work.

A HR bod will be reprimanded/shown the door (after a thorough and impartial process, of course).

And we will never speak of this incident again.


Anonymous 19 August 22 10:08

Hang out if you get to the end of the year and are told you're getting a big fat bonus only to be paid a fraction of that isn't the firm on the hook contractually? At what point does the bonus cease being discretionary. I would have thought if you tell an employee you're going to get paid 100 and then they only get paid 20 can't they kick up a fuss and insist on getting the 100? 

Edd China 19 August 22 10:37

At what point does the bonus cease being discretionary.

When it hits your account. 

Anonymous 19 August 22 11:09

Another day, another story about people being enormously unhappy at Stephenson Harwood.

I'm as shocked as you are.

anon 19 August 22 11:27

Possibly a currency conversion error?  Bonus calculated in one currency at HQ and paid out in another - and someone in HR put the wrong numbers in the system in June?

Sue Denim 19 August 22 11:59

Similar thing happened at my City firm. An email came round last autumn to the 'All Associates' email list promising an additional pay rise would take place in December (normally pay rises happen in the summer, but pay rises were taking place elsewhere and they had to keep up).

The firm forgot that the 'All Associates' list included a number of non-associates, eg PSLs, costs lawyers and the like, who unsurprisingly thought they were getting a pay rise too (what with them being the recipients of an email which said "You are getting an additional pay rise").

Turns out the firm had no intention of paying anyone other than the associates a pay rise, and everyone else was just left to whistle for it. 

Worst thing was, neither the partners nor HR could see that there was anything wrong with what they had done and just shrugged it off.  Apparently it should have been obvious to recipients that "You are getting a pay rise" did not *actually* mean that they were getting a pay rise (nothing in the email suggested it was only for associates).

Mistakes can happen anywhere but at least SH had the shred of decency required to apologise for their balls up! 

Anonymous 19 August 22 12:39

If the firm can backtrack on a bonus amount that has been announced and subsequently confirmed, how do you buy into your partners’ word that you will make partner here someday so long as you slave away for the next 20 years?

Do yourselves a favour and find another job.

Tokyo Hot 19 August 22 12:50

If I were management I would hand out the bonuses as previously communicated, even if it could result in lower equity draw for partners. It’s incredibly offensive to associates and supporting staff to not deliver what has been promised - give them the respect they deserve and not be so shortsighted. 

Anonymous 19 August 22 13:00

"Possibly a currency conversion error?"

I'd believe that if it was a small deviation from the original, but it sounds like a bigger shift than that.

I think far more likely that it was a crap spreadsheet error which overestimated the bonus pool left over after partners had granted themselves their desired annual drawings. An error which they corrected by reducing staff bonuses rather than taking the cost of the mistake themselves.

That said, a tiny modicum of sympathy for partners who played no part in the spreadsheet crunching who now have to wear the morale and reputation hit of all this personally.

Roscoe P. Coltrane 20 August 22 12:19

All affected employees could sign one letter to the firm asserting that the firm’s actions are likely to seriously damage the relationship of confidence and trust between employer and employee, in breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence, and demand payment as promised.

Response to Tokyo Hot 21 August 22 16:05

Good idea, and sounds the right thing to do.  But it sets a benchmark.  The following year the associates expect the same.  

And it can also demoralise the salaried partners if the associates get paid more than them - why did they bother, etc...

There's probably no good solution. 

Anonymous 21 August 22 17:05

Not bonuses, but something in a similar vein has happened at a MC firm recently. Extremely shoddy.

Anonymous 23 August 22 07:13

A similar thing happened at my firm in Singapore and we were all paid the higher version!  Shame on SH.

Your mate in HR 23 August 22 12:35

As someone who works in HR and deals with this stuff every year, this is a nightmare scenario but so easily done. Thankless job often - get it right a thousand times nobody says anything, get it wrong once and you're crap at your job.

Good job I don't do it for the thanks!

Anonymous 23 August 22 15:45

Regardless of the cock-up, announcing bonuses / pay rises by requiring people to log on to a system and take a look is piss-poor man management. 

Partners should sit down with their team members and tell them. It's pretty simple.

Anonymous 25 August 22 08:22

@Anon 07:13 - nice try mate.  I’m sure SH will make good now based on this coincidental competitor precedent. 

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