April 17th, 2014

A modest proposal: Pay to Quit for workplace bullies

Zappos, the little retailer that grew to be acquired by Amazon.com in 2009, has grown immensely under CEO Tony Hsieh, splitting into 10 separate companies. The company is a financial success. Additionally, its fame rests on a quirky corporate culture in its humane approach to employees. See these unique core values.

One unique Zappos practice was to offer employees $1,000 to quit on their 90-day anniversary of joining the company. Tim Sackett, an irreverent HR writer who understands the best and worst of HR, astutely pointed out that few corporations are bold enough to make such an offer for fear the good talent will walk. No guts in the HR dept. or confidence in the perceived quality of the workplace culture makes chickens of C-suite dwellers was his point.

Five years after the acquisition, Amazon will adopt the Zappos practice of offering Pay to Quit.

From the April 2014 Bezos letter to Amazon.com shareholders:

Employee Empowerment

We challenge ourselves to not only invent outward facing features, but also to find better ways to do things internally – things that will both make us more effective and benefit our thousands of employees around the world.

Pay to Quit. It was invented by the clever people at Zappos, and the Amazon fulfillment centers have been iterating on it. Pay to Quit is pretty simple. 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.” We hope they don’t take the offer; we want them to stay. Why do we make this offer? The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want. In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.

There it is. Guts. Confidence that Amazon is a good enough place to work that employees who don’t want to be there will take the dough and those who pass on the incentive will be more committed.

It’s not perfect, but it is gutsy. Of course, neither $2,000 or $5,000 goes far for the long-run unemployed person, a likely prospect facing quitters. On the positive side, it might not look so bad to say your last job ended with a small severance pay even though you found the job soul-crushing and mind-warping.

Here’s my proposal. Let’s pay the bullies to leave. Here, take this money and be gone. End the misery for all of us. Get outta here so we can get work done and feel safe again. And there would be no shame in accepting the Pay to Quit option. Walk out with your head held high.

I’m dreaming, of course. Bullies rarely leave (in only about 5% of cases). They get promoted. Or complaints about them are discounted or ignored. In rare instances where they are thoroughly investigated and threatened with termination, they often fight back. If they enjoy membership in a protected status group, they threaten a lawsuit against the investigating employer crying foul, claiming “discrimination.” This typically brings a settlement or large severance offer.

No, Virginia, bullies do not have to settle for the meager offerings of a Pay to Quit deal.

Bullied targets, on the other hand, would love to get offered something compared to the nothing they too often get now. With between 61% and 77% of targets losing their jobs for no other reason than they have been unfortunate enough to be targeted, they are shown the door via the humiliating “exit parade” as if they were the criminals.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, April 17th, 2014 at 4:36 pm and is filed under Good News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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