Amazon Is Paying Its Disengaged Employees to Quit

Amazon Is Paying Its Disengaged Employees to Quit

At Amazon’s warehouses and customer service centers this week, the company is offering its hourly employees up to $5,000 to quit if they’re not happy working there, Alana Semuels writes at the Atlantic:

Officially called “The Offer,” this proposition is, according to Amazon, a way to encourage unhappy employees to move on. “We believe staying somewhere you don’t want to be isn’t healthy for our employees or for the company,” Ashley Robinson, an Amazon spokesperson, wrote to me in an email. The amount full-time employees get offered ranges from $2,000 to $5,000, and depends on how long they have been at the company; if they take the money, they agree to never work for Amazon again.

The concept of “the Offer” comes from Zappos, the online shoe retailer Amazon acquired in 2009, and which famously offered its employees a similar deal in 2015 to walk away with several months’ severance if they did not want to participate in the company’s adoption of the idiosyncratic management philosophy known as holacracy. Some observers saw that move as a mistake when 18 percent of Zappos’ workforce took the deal, but CEO Tony Hsieh maintained that it was a successful component of the company’s culture change strategy. The HR and benefits technology company Zenefits copied Zappos’ move in 2016 as part of its own culture overhaul.

The direct impact of these offers is obvious: Employees who are disengaged, unhappy, and don’t want to work at the company are given an easy offramp. But as Hsieh argued after Zappos caught flak for buying out 18 percent of its workforce, the real story should have been about the 82 percent who chose to stay. Similarly, Semuels writes, Amazon’s offer may be as much about holding onto the employees who don’t take it as parting ways with those who do:

The reasoning goes like this: Employees resist an initial temptation—to quit Amazon and walk out with cash—and by resisting it, they may actually feel more committed to their jobs, said Ian Ayres, a professor at Yale Law School who wrote about the concept of The Offer in his book Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done. Amazon employees who evaluate The Offer and then turn it down have decided they like the company enough to stay a little longer. They then want their future behavior to match that feeling, Ayres said.