What if you offered to pay all your staff a handsome sum, not to do more work, but to leave your business?
How many staff of yours would stay?
This may sound like a mad idea. But it’s an offer that one of the largest businesses in the world, Amazon, regularly makes to its warehousing staff.
What are the benefits of making this offer? And would it even be legal here in NZ?
AMAZON’S “PAY TO QUIT” PROGRAMME
Each year, Amazon writes a letter to staff in its vast warehouses offering them a no-questions-asked payment of $5,000 if they want to leave. Amazon employs approximately 90,000 full-time warehouse staff members and, reportedly, only a small percentage take up the offer and move on.
The founder of the company, Jeff Bezos, says that the idea of the offer is to make it easy for unhappy employees to leave.
THE BENEFITS OF MAKING AN OFFER TO PAY STAFF TO LEAVE
The offer isn’t completely mad. Think about the benefits. By making a general offer to pay staff who prefer to leave, you would:
- Remove those who are unhappy about being part of your business. That in itself may improve morale and team culture. Unhappy staff tend to drag others down with them. Making it possible for them to go, will not only make those former staff happier, but perhaps give a boost to those that remain.
- Reinforce that if an employee is staying with your business, it’s because they are choosing to do so in the face of an incentive to leave. In a way, this requires them to recommit themselves to you. People who stay under those circumstances might feel happier about being at work.
Overall, you may just end up with a merrier workforce. The unhappy ones are gone, and those who have chosen to stay in the face of a payment for leaving, may be more committed than they would have otherwise been.
CAN YOU MAKE SUCH AN OFFER HERE?
The US employment law context is very different from the one that applies in New Zealand. Wouldn’t you invite a personal grievance if you asked someone to leave their job?
If you genuinely want someone to leave, and you tell them so, then you certainly could land yourself in hot water. Your employee in that case would likely be able to resign and claim that you have in effect dismissed them (which is known as “constructive dismissal”).
But making a general offer to staff, without singling anyone out, is very different. In that case, promising to pay them something if they wish to leave is akin to inviting people to step forward for voluntary redundancy (where you invite employees to go so that you don’t have to select staff for redundancy).
The key is that the initiative for leaving comes from the employee, not from you.
So instead of saying, “I want you to leave, and here’s some money for you as you collect your things on your way out,” (which makes it impossible for an employee to comfortably remain, knowing that you don’t want them there anymore) you can say, “If you decide that you want to leave, here is what I will pay you.”
That is an offer you are making to staff, which allows them to determine whether they stay or go.
SO WHY DON’T YOU DO IT?
Aside from the legal concerns, there would undoubtedly be practical ones too.
The fears of taking this approach are similar to those when you call for voluntary redundancy:
- What if all the best staff want to take up the offer and leave?
- And what will it cost you if they do leave?
This is possibly why one of the biggest companies in the world has tried it. They have deep pockets, but they also know that they are a sought-after work place that can easily attract replacement staff.
But if you want to test whether your company is a desirable place to work, and whether your staff are happy (and consequently, productive), the pay-to-leave offer could be just the tool for you.
How can you make your business so attractive that your staff never want to leave?
That is perhaps the fundamental question raised by Amazon’s “Pay to Exit” programme. They are willing to test this and believe that even if staff take up the offer, their business will benefit.
True, it may be an offer that only works at a certain scale of business. But it is a tool you could use if you were brave enough to try. There is at least nothing inherently unlawful about making the offer, provided it is done in the right way.
And you may just find that by making this offer, you end up with a more committed, happier workforce.
Have you tried this already, or are you thinking about doing so? Why or why not?