Last week in the column, “When Your Employees Hate Their Job,” I wrote about the lack of engagement among workers. In the U.S. it is estimated that only 30 percent of employees claim to be engaged at work, according to a recent Gallup survey of 5.4 million adults. I also included tips on what you could do about it that included changing vacation and sick day policies and letting employees write their own job descriptions.
This week, I’d like to share more radical approaches some companies have taken to make sure they have a more engaged work force. I will also share my top tips for re-engaging employees after a company goes through tough times.
How about paying people to quit? Yep, that’s what Amazon does. You can be paid up to $5,000 just to quit. This simple program is called Pay to Quit and that’s exactly what it is. All employees in the fulfillment centers are eligible for it.
Jeff Bezos, chief of Amazon, talked about the program in a recent article in Time magazine, “Amazon Will Pay You $5,000 to Quit Your Job.”
“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,” he said.
The company doesn’t really want its employees to quit. In fact, the headline on the offer is “Please Don’t Take This Offer.” The goal is to get rid of unmotivated employees. As Bezos said, “In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”
The program started at Zappos and was adapted by Amazon when it purchased the online shoe retailer. The reasoning is that it costs less in the long run to get rid of employees who don’t wish to be there than keeping these unmotivated employees on the payroll.
It’s not the first such offer the employees get. After an intensive four-week training program and one week on the actual job at Zappos, employees receive “The Offer.” They will receive a $2,000 bonus in addition to pay for the amount of time they have worked if they leave. According to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, 97 percent decline.
In my work as a turnaround authority, I have seen what can happen to companies when the employees are actively disengaged. In fact, reengaging employees is one of my greatest challenges when I take over a company. It can be almost impossible to turnaround a company when employees are unmotivated. They work slower, make more mistakes due to basic negligence and may ignore requests of their supervisors.
So how do you do get them back on board when a company is in such bad shape? By that point, it’s too late for measures like changing leave policies or paying folks to leave. They would probably exit in droves!
At that point my ability to reengage employees and turn the company around relies on two things: communication and buy-in.
I tell the story in my book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me” about working with an apparel manufacturer. The president had been fired and the company was undergoing a crisis of leadership. The interim president was constantly changing restructuring plans and announcing firings and closings almost daily, creating an emotional roller coast for the staff.
We had to conduct extensive meetings to earn support to proceed with our forbearance agreement and have time to hire a new president.
We had to be very open and honest about our plans with the staff. Once they learned they were an integral part of the process and were hearing the truth from us, we earned their trust. And we got buy-in from them for the path we were taking.
This kind of buy-in was contagious up and down the organization, and this spirit amongst the staff contributed immensely because people felt they were a part of the turnaround. They were committed to the company and seeing it survive. Anything I needed from them I got. I couldn’t have done it without communication and buy-in.