In the company’s annual letter to shareholders, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos revealed what has to be the most counterintuitive personnel policy in corporate America today: If an employee isn’t happy working at the online retail giant, they can earn up to $5,000 just for quitting.
Bezos describes it as one of the company’s “better ways to do things internally.” Called Pay To Quit, the program is “pretty simple,” Bezos says. “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. The headline on the offer is ‘Please Don’t Take This Offer.’”
Pay To Quit started at Amazon-owned Zappos, and the parent company adopted the concept for its fulfillment centers. On one hand, it sounds backwards. Companies pay their employees to work, not to not work. Then again, this is a company that isn’t afraid to flirt with wacky ideas like delivering merchandise via unmanned drone aircraft.
In a Harvard Business Review blog post examining this practice at Zappos back in 2008, author and Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor says the quit money (it was $1,000 per employee back then) worked out costing less than the online shoe retailer would have lost if unmotivated employees put the brakes on its fast-paced corporate culture. “Zappos wants to learn if there’s a bad fit between what makes the organization tick and what makes individual employees tick–and it’s willing to pay to learn sooner rather than later,” Taylor says.
In Amazon’s case, the aim is the same. “The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want,” Bezos explains. “In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”