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“Pay to Quit” Offered to Amazon Workers: What Sounds Counter-Intuitive Could Actually Work
Published on 7/8/2015 12:00:00 AM

In the HR world, we talk a lot about employee engagement – that sweet spot where employees are connected and committed to the company’s goals and values. Engaged employees are desirable because they’re more productive, participatory and positive. Unlike their lackluster coworkers who would rather be anywhere but the workplace, these employees make a difference in your company’s success.

So with that in mind, I was intrigued when I heard about Amazon’s new “Pay to Quit” program. In his annual letter to shareholders, CEO and founder Jeff Bezos revealed the unique, new approach that pays workers at the company’s warehouses up to $5,000 to quit.

Here’s how it works: Once a year, the company will offer to pay its more than 40,000 warehouse workers to walk out the door -- $2,000 the first year, and an additional thousand dollars each year until the amount reaches $5,000. While the company hopes the workers won’t accept the offer (the invitation is titled, “Please Don’t Take This Offer”), the option “encourages folks to take a moment and think about what they really want.”
While this seems like a radical notion, what Bezos shares in a final statement puts it in perspective: “In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”
With that last line, my opinion of the “Pay to Quit” program shifted. After all, the Amazon CEO is expressing the foundation of employee engagement. Employees who are disconnected and indifferent about the workplace are toxic to their surrounding coworkers and the business as a whole. For any company, big or small, the cost of keeping an unhappy, underperforming employee is probably more than the $1,000 or even $5,000 it takes to cut ties and recruit a more valuable replacement. There are the measurable costs of lost attendance, productivity and output from the individual, as well as the additional toll of morale-crushing negativity that hurts entire teams and departments.
It should be noted that Amazon’s “Pay to Quit” program functions in a company that is renowned for empowering its employees in other ways, such as providing ample opportunities for growth and exploring flexible working arrangements. While it’s getting attention for its “Pay to Quit” program, the company is also recognized for extending programs like Career Choice, which pays up to 95 percent of tuition for coursework in high-demand fields, and Virtual Contact Center, which allows customer service employees to work from home.
Obviously, the “Pay to Quit” model wouldn’t work in a company riddled with personnel issues – where workers would welcome such an offer and be quick to leave. Instead, it succeeds in a secure workplace environment by sending the message, “We’re so confident of our company culture that we’re willing to put money in your pocket if you’re unsatisfied.” In a company that values employee engagement and uses a variety of proven tactics for motivating and rewarding its workers, an approach like this demonstrates a commitment to building a happier, healthier workforce.
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