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For those hoping for annual employee bonuses, 2015 is turnout out to be another tough year, even as companies struggle to attract and keep vital staff members.

U.S. employers won’t fully fund their annual employee bonuses in 2015, the fifth consecutive year that annual bonus pools will land below goal, according to a new Towers Watson survey. Specifically, U.S. companies’ average projected bonus funding for current-year performance is about 89 percent of target. That’s down from 93 percent in 2014. Towers Watson noted U.S. companies have fully funded their bonus pools only twice since 2005.

Falling short on the annual bonus pool comes even as most companies struggle to attract and keep employees with critical skills, Towers Watson said.

Survey results found that 52 percent of respondents said that they’re struggling to keep employees with critical skills. That’s up from 41 percent just two years ago. Adding fuel to the fire, 66 percent of employers said they are having difficulties attracting employees with vital skills they need, but that number has stabilized since the recession ended, Towers Watson said.

Towers Watson Managing Director Laura Sejen said in prepared remarks that the numbers reflect a conservative approach from employers as far as funding their bonus pools, with money tied to the company’s financial performance.

At the same time, there’s a twist. Approximately 30 percent of respondents said they’d give bonuses to employees who don’t meet performance expectations (the lowest possible ranking).

As Towers Watson noted, some of the companies give the same bonus to each employee regardless of individual performance level. But other employers who give bonuses to employees with the lowest rating pay approximately 65 percent of their target (those that exceed expectations typically get around 19 percent above target).

“While most incentive programs are designed to recognize and reward employees for individual performance, the fact that some companies continue to deliver substantial bonuses to weak performers raises questions as to whether they are investing their bonus dollars as effectively as possible or truly holding workers accountable for performance,” Sejen said.

Source: Towers Watson