Actually the unspoken answer was “I don’t really know” or “I don’t want to say” or “Don’t mess with me, babe.” Either way it was wrong.
The worker’s question isn’t a very nice one – personally I prefer working with people who don’t ask for reward before job is done. On the other hand it isn’t unexpected either. As far as you’ve done some extra job and haven’t been rewarded in any way or your so called reward could be interpreted only as an insult you learn to ask before, not after. Every manager should be prepared to hear the question.
Being prepared here means having an answer and having the one which actually says something specific. Let it be “You’ll get this and that amount of bonus money” or “You’ll have higher engagement rating during next performance review” or “I can do completely nothing for you because I’m a crappy manager but I still ask you to come.” It’s still better than nothing.
A reason why these are better than those above is simple. They are transparent. You show how things look like. You don’t hide your magic algorithm which is a number of overtime hours multiplied by standard rate multiplied by secret factor of 1,25. This by the way becomes perfectly clear for everyone once they do the basic math. Basically if you as a manager hide something it’s either wrong or it shouldn’t be a concern of a team. Actually the former most of the time. Even when you don’t hide you suck being a manager while you’re trying to be transparent it’s better than trying to play kick-ass boss. Everyone would know you suck anyway but you’d avoid a label of hypocrite at least.
If something is interesting for the team or a person in the team – say it. An algorithm you use to tell how much bonus money people are going to get? Say it. Rules you use to decide on a promotion? Well, say it. New facts about this huge project you’re trying to get? Guess what. Say it. Unexpected issues with company cash flow which will bring some inconveniences for the team? How about saying it? Be transparent. People will appreciate this even if they won’t say that out loud.
Being transparent cuts off gossips, increase team’s trust to their manager and helps to spread information among the team. It is good. Do the opposite and you won’t keep your alleged secrets and you won’t control information (and gossip) flow in any way either. Not to mention you’ll be considered as a poor manager by your team. And well, they’ll probably be right this time.