Would you be willing to pay an unhappy employee to quit?

Amazon’s Pay to Quit program encourages employees to 'think about what they really want'

By Claudine Kapel

Every organization probably has them — unhappy employees who don’t like their jobs and aren’t really committed to delivering their best.

So what’s an employer to do?

Of course, we know it’s possible to use money to get disruptive employees out of an organization’s hair. Employers often call this a severance package.

But what if you could get the disgruntled and disengaged to leave voluntarily?

That’s a key objective of Amazon’s Pay to Quit program. It wants unhappy employees to leave of their own accord — and it’s willing to pay up to $5,000 to make it happen.

In a recent letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos describes the organization’s Pay to Quit program, which he acknowledges was “invented by the clever people at Zappos.”

“Pay to Quit is pretty simple,” noted Bezos. “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 one thousand dollars a year until it reaches $5,000.”

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

So why make the offer?

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

Granted, Bezos didn’t indicate how many people have taken Amazon up on its offer since the program was introduced.

But perhaps getting people to leave isn’t really the primary objective. The Pay to Quit program illustrates how Amazon is applying its marketing savvy to its own employment proposition. The program essentially gets employees to recommit to the organization each time they opt to not take the money.

So what does it take to encourage employees to consciously connect and commit to your organization? Some key elements include:

  • Open and ongoing communication on the organization’s goals and priorities, including how it seeks to differentiate itself in the market and its commitment to customers or other external stakeholders.
  • Strong leadership, including capable people managers who understand how to motivate and engage the members of their teams.
  • Role clarity, which includes ensuring employees understand what is expected of them and how their jobs and work fit into the “big picture” and contribute to satisfied customers and overall organizational success.
  • A compelling total rewards offering employees understand and value.
  • Opportunities for involvement, which includes providing employees with opportunities to raise questions, offer feedback, put forward ideas and suggest ways to improve work processes, products, or services.
  • Strong and inspiring values that align the organization with commitments that serve the greater good, such as community involvement, charitable giving and/or environmental objectives.

Ultimately, employees are most likely to be committed and inspired to deliver their very best when they feel they’re a member of a vibrant and supportive community and a vital part of something larger than themselves.

But such a powerful sense of connection won’t germinate of its own accord. It needs to be nurtured and sustained every day through consistent words and actions. You can’t engage hearts and minds without delivering an employment proposition people can feel good about. And in the end, you can’t fake authenticity. 

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.

Claudine Kapel

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a human resources consulting firm specializing in compensation design, performance management, and employee communications. Claudine is also the co-author of The HR Manager’s Guide to Total Rewards and Straight Talk on Managing Human Resources.
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