Amazon paying its staff to quit

You open your work inbox and under the subject line “please do not take up this offer” is a promise to pay you $2000, plus four weeks' pay, if you'll leave the company today.

Would you?

It's a reverse psychology question that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asks all his salaried staff. He even increases the offer by $1000 every year, up to $5000, just to be sure that the employees who work for him do so because they want to.

Bezos shared the “pay to quit” strategy in his annual shareholder letter released last week, revealing it was first introduced to the company by Zappos, an online shoe store acquired by Amazon in 2009.

Does he want them to take the kiss-off money and run?

Far from it. It's a carrot to help staff resolve a question that niggles at many employees from time to time – would I be better off working somewhere else?

Those who decide to knock back the cash and stay put are more likely to approach their work wholeheartedly, Bezos reasons.

'The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want,” he writes. “In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they really don't want to be isn't healthy for the employee or the company.”

Amazonians who want to work from home also get the nod from Bezos. The company's Virtual Contact Centre is its fastest-growing work site, as more customer service staff exercise the option to work from home.


It's win-win, Bezos believes – the company gets to choose its people from a bigger pool than just those who can front up to a call centre for a shift, and more staff with young children can stay in the workforce.

Amazon forks out big bucks for training too, even when courses have nothing to do with its core business. It covers up to 95 per cent of the fees for anything from aircraft mechanics to nursing studies.

“We know that for some of our fulfillment centre employees, Amazon will be a career,” Bezos writes. “For others, Amazon might be a stepping stone on the way to a job somewhere else … if the right training can make the difference, we want to help.”

Proactive strategies like these for retaining staff are usually the preserve of multinationals that can afford large and strategically-focused HR departments, according to Lara Steel, the director of HR consultancy Work Life Innovations.

Smaller players tend to employ a reactive approach to hiring and firing but could save thousands on turnover costs if they took a few leaves from the books of the likes of Amazon, she says.

Tristan White, the CEO of The Physio Co, a practice whose 70 physiotherapists work in aged care centres across Melbourne, has done so.

White borrowed the idea of an annual “culture book”, from Zappos three years ago. It's a handy recruitment aid as well as a feel-good record of staff and company achievements, he says.

The company runs a Most Valuable Person award scheme, which allow staff to nominate colleagues who have gone over and above expected levels of service.

These inexpensive practices have contributed to a retention rate of 93 per cent, in a profession where mobility can be high, and have helped The Physio Co make the BRW Best Places to Work list for five consecutive years.

“No big bonuses or awards – genuine appreciation and thanks are more effective,” White says.

“It's about solid, transparent systems and rewards for great effort.”

Amazon-style flexibility also comes standard at Vend, a cloud-based point-of-sales software developer, which allows its staff to work from anywhere.

Boundaries between home and work life are blurred by policies that encourage workers to bring children and dogs to the office and to down tools and bake a cake with Vend-supplied ingredients when the urge strikes.

Suggesting staff head out for the occasional job interview may have a similar effect to Bezos' golden goodbye tactic, with less risk to the cheque book.

It's a strategy which helps keep Microsoft enterprise architect Luanne Middleton-Cross feeling content. Speaking at a Women in IT event on the Gold Coast last year, she told delegates the best career advice she'd received was to go for an interview every two years.

As well as keeping your interview skills honed, it's a reliable way to gauge whether you're happy in your current role or just marking time, Middleton-Cross says.