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Sign-On Bonuses Vs. Higher Wages

Sign-On Bonuses vs. Higher Wages

Our clients are often looking for ways to attract and retain top-tier talent. Two popular methods that often come into play are offering sign-on bonuses vs providing higher wages. While both approaches aim to attract new employees, both can hopefully start by attracting more candidates, which can be converted to employees.

Sign On Bonus

Attracting Top Talent:

  • Sign-on bonuses serve as an enticing carrot to attract prospective employees. The idea is to provide an immediate financial incentive that sets the job offer apart from competitors. However, it’s essential to recognize that once paid, sign-on bonuses become sunk costs – irreversible expenditures that cannot be recovered. In reality, all hiring costs, which can total tens of thousands of dollars, are unrecoverable sunk costs.

Retention and Commitment:

  • Offering sign-on bonuses can enhance the employee’s commitment to the organization. The psychology behind receiving a lump sum upon joining fosters a sense of belonging and can contribute to increased loyalty. However, employers must carefully evaluate whether this loyalty lasts after the initial period or if it’s just a transient effect.

Mitigating the Risk of Employee Turnover:

  • From the employer’s perspective, sign-on bonuses can be seen as a tool to mitigate the risk of losing a new hire shortly after onboarding. The upfront financial investment may deter employees from considering leaving the company early in their tenure.

Higher Wages: A Long-Term Investment in Talent

Sustainable Motivation:

  • Unlike sign-on bonuses, higher wages are ongoing investments contributing to the employee’s overall compensation package but also affect the company’s bottom line every month going forward. A competitive salary can motivate employees throughout their tenure, fostering a sense of value and appreciation for their skills and contributions.

Reducing Turnover in the Long Run:

  • While sign-on bonuses may help reduce immediate turnover, sustained job satisfaction often comes from meaningful work and consistent financial rewards. Higher wages contribute to employee retention in the long run, as individuals are less likely to explore alternative opportunities if they feel adequately compensated for their skills and efforts.

Reflecting Company Values:

  • Higher wages communicates the company’s commitment to fair compensation and can positively impact the employer brand. It sends a message that the organization values its employees not just as a means to an end but as long-term partners in achieving shared goals.

Balancing Act: Finding the Optimal Mix

Internal compensation and fairness to current employees can really be important as well. With pay transparency laws and the way loose lips sink ships, financial offerings to new employees need to be considered in the context of how existing employees will feel. Employers need to balance existing employees, industry competitiveness, budget constraints, vacancy costs, and workforce needs. Striking a balance between sign-on bonuses and higher wages may be the key to a comprehensive and effective talent acquisition strategy.


Sign-on bonuses can be effective in the short term, higher wages represent a more sustained investment in employee satisfaction and retention. Ultimately, successful talent acquisition strategies involve understanding the unique needs of both the organization and its workforce and finding the right balance between one-time costs and long-term investments.

Learn more related information on our Employers page!