published Friday, April 11th, 2014

Amazon to pay employees to leave

  • photo
    Bins containing orders are rushed to packaging at the Amazon Fulfillment Center.

Amazon.com hopes its fulfillment center workers are happy in their jobs.

But if they’re not, and perhaps would rather be doing something else, Amazon has a deal: The company will pay them a bonus — up to $5,000 — to leave.

In a program that Amazon aptly calls “Pay to Quit,” those who aren’t committed to their jobs are urged to leave on their own, and can get $2,000 in severance pay in the first year of employment, with the bonus topping out at $5,000 in the fourth year. The company has several fulfillment centers in Tennessee, including large ones in Chattanooga, Charleston, Murfreesboro and Lebanon.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos explained the program in his 2013 Letter to Shareholders, released this week.

“Pay to Quit is pretty simple,” he said. “Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit. The first year the offer is made, it’s for $2,000. Then it goes up $1,000 a year until it reaches $5,000.”

Bezos noted that “The headline on the offer is ‘Please Don’t Take This Offer,’” adding: “We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay.”

But why make such an offer at all?

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

The program was started by Zappos.com, an Amazon subsidiary that sells shoes and other apparel, Bezos said. Amazon purchased Zappos in 2009 for $850 million.

Only workers in the fulfillment centers — where customer orders are packed and shipped — are eligible for the program, said Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman.

“A small percentage of employees take the offer,” she said. “We want them to stay, but we also only want people who want to be here. It encourages them to think about what they want.”

Amazon also offers an education program, Career Choice, in which the company pre-pays 95 percent of the tuition for workers who want to “take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon,” Bezos said in the shareholders’ letter.

The goal of both programs “is to enable choice,” he said.

“We know that for some of our fulfillment center employees, Amazon will be a career,” he said. “For others, Amazon might be a stepping stone on the way to a job somewhere else – a job that may require new skills. If the right training can make the difference, we want to help.”

The tuition program isn’t limited to the fulfillment centers, Cheeseman said — it’s open to all hourly employees at Amazon.

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