Amazon Asks: How Much Do You Love Your Job?

Do you love your job?
How much do people love their J-O-…?

We’ve all been asked that question, or some version of it, by our friends, colleagues, and/or spouses. At some point in their career, many people ask it of themselves at 3:00 in the morning, staring up at the ceiling. Very often, the answer is less than boundless enthusiasm. In people’s day-to-day lives, it somehow seems that many of us dwell on the negative, whether because of unfulfilled ambition, jealousy of others, or feelings of being unappreciated for our contributions. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that those kinds of feelings, whatever their ultimate cause, are not conducive to doing your best work, or getting the most out of life. It is equally obvious that working with people who feel this way about their job is not a recipe for your own success, either.

Amazon recently announced that they were giving people who “unhappy with their job” a way out, by way of a parting gift up to $5000. (Actual money, not store credit!)

Because I’m an idiot, when I first heard this news, I thought that Amazon was in financial trouble, and they were trying to cut labour costs, albeit in a more humane way than many corporations. The “if you’re unhappy with your job” part of the offer was, I figured, just another example of corporate hypocrisy — “You have to leave, but we’re going to blame you.”

For the first time since the last time it happened, I was wrong. The company is doing fine, and there is no passive-aggressive hidden agenda here. Almost immediately after that first realization, I realized that this isn’t just a good idea; in my opinion, it borders on genius.

Everybody has worked with people who bring others down. You know the types I mean: Debbie Downer, Negative Nancy, Complaining Carl, Polly Putoff, Rude Ralph, Curt Curt, Snide Simon, etc. The type who can find the dark cloud for every silver lining. The kind who complains that they will owe more tax because they make more. (A colleague of mine made almost that very comment just over a week ago. No joke.)

As a colleague, how much would you like to be able to get rid of those people? I’m sorry to say that I’d be willing to put a few shekels in the kitty if it meant getting rid of a few of my current colleagues. As an enterprise owner (this is where the genius part come in) how much would you pay to have those people self-select out of your company? Getting negative influences out of your company means not only getting rid of sub-par performers, but also people who hinder your better performers from doing their best work. Freed from the complaining of others, people would be in a much better frame of mind, which normally leads to happier, more productive employees.

The devil you know

Of course, almost everybody has the option of taking their labour to another employer at any given time; there are few fields that are so specialized that there aren’t at least a few other options for employment. Assuming this to be the case, the question must be asked, “Why do so many people stay at jobs that they’re not happy doing?” There are two answers: inertia and fear.

Many people who are not happy with their jobs stay where they are because that is easier than trying to find something else. Even if you don’t love your job, at least you know what it is and how to do it. You’ve figured out how to get by, and getting by is often seen as a better option than trying your luck someplace else. The next place you try could be worse, after all. Simply put, it’s better to stay with the devil you know.

Because of these psychological obstacles, as well as the obvious financial ones, many people stay in jobs they dislike, or outright hate, dying a slow death, and dragging others down with them. Amazon, by making this offer  annually, forces employees  to look in the mirror and make a decision as to whether or not they want to be there another year. Because the offer only comes around once a year, I’m sure it is taken seriously, and is considered carefully by those who feel they may have better opportunities elsewhere. They make a conscious, purposeful decision to stay at their current job, rather than just continue to drift along, mindlessly maintaining the status quo.

Amazon’s offer really is a win-win when employees take them up on it. The employee gets a fresh start somewhere else, and a bit of scratch, and the company rids itself of an emotional anchor.

Yet, from where I sit, those two parties are not even the biggest winners. The biggest winners are the people who don’t take the offer. Imagine coming to work every day knowing that you want to be there (because you looked yourself in the mirror and made the purposeful decision to stay where you are) and knowing also that all of your co-workers had gone through the same process, and come to the same conclusion. I imagine that this would engender an esprit-de-corps that most companies can only dream of. I bet that one of the best days of the year at Amazon is the day after this offer closes every year. You look around you, and know that people do have a choice, and are happy to be there. I’m sure it makes a difference in how people feel about their jobs and their colleagues.

How much do you love your job?

Unless you work at Amazon, you probably don’t have this kind of offer on the table. But going through the motions, even only as a thought experiment, can be instructive. If you were offered $5000 as a parting gift, would you show up to work tomorrow morning? If not, it’s probably time to think about moving on anyway, even without the bonus money.

If this money were on offer but $5,000 isn’t enough, how much would it take for you to accept a buyout? How much do you love your job? There are no right or wrong answers; only the inability to hide from the truth about how you really feel.

If you don’t love your job, are there steps you can take to change the situation? Are there improvement you can make to make yourself happier at work? Would you benefit from moving on? I’m not being trite or simplistic when I ask these questions. I can think of two jobs that I had when I was a student that required me to re-frame my thinking. Once I had, I became a much happier – and productive – worker.

But in both cases, I would have taken the money and run!

4 thoughts on “Amazon Asks: How Much Do You Love Your Job?”

  1. I remember my brother worked in the produce department at Superstore in high school and the company offered its employees a buyout after they’d worked something like 2000 or 3000 hours. At the time, I understood it to mean they didn’t want to pay the wage premiums for longer-term employees so they offered a buyout to get rid of them and hire someone new at the bottom of the rung. I suppose it could have served another purpose – like Amazon is doing today.

    I don’t know what my “number” would have to be in order to walk away, but I’m sure it’s more than what my severance is currently.

  2. Hi Robb,
    The same thing happened to my parents, who were both teachers. As I recall, they were offered 70% of a year’s salary if they retired that summer. They both took the buyout. My mother was ready to go because of the situation at her school, but I think my father could have probably taught another five years or so. The problem was that they (my parents, not the school board) didn’t want only one of them to retire.

    The school board made absolutely no bones about why they were doing this: to cut labour costs. I think that Amazon’s motives are different, (hence the above article) but I have considered the possibility that I’m just being naïve. Maybe Amazon is just framing the situation differently.

  3. In some cases companies would have to pay a large amount in severance to get rid of employees (depending on the state) and even then they sometimes find it worth the cost to do layoffs. Another advantage of this idea might be avoiding that cost. But I agree a lot of people should find a job that they enjoy more so if they get a bonus that’s an extra incentive.

    1. I suppose another way to think of this is as a fringe benefit. The fact of the matter is that lots of people change jobs from time to time, just to keep things interesting. If you’ve been at one job for, say, 7 or 8 years, and you feel it’s time to move on, this would be a nice little parting gift.
      Similarly, parents who decide to stop working for a few years to raise a family might benefit from this. It would just be a bonus for something that they were going to do anyway. The only thing is that you’d have to quit at the right time of the year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *