Friday, The Washington Post reported that Amazon is starting a pilot program in which some employees will work only 30 hours a week. The initial program will be small, only a few dozen workers, but will include some entire teams, which will work on human resources products at Amazon. Employees will earn 75 percent of a regular Amazon salary, but retain full benefits.
If you go by last year’s New York Times expose of life at Amazon, that’s a pretty good deal: according to their sources, a 40-hour workweek at Amazon may be rare. Former employees described a workplace in which going above and beyond was merely baseline expectations, and those who didn’t measure up were culled or forced out.
“You can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” Bezos wrote in a 1997 letter to shareholders, which The Times piece quoted, noting that when Bezos interviewed potential hires, he warned them, “It’s not easy to work here.”
It’s worth noting that Bezos took issue with the Amazon described in the expose, issuing an internal memo that said, in part:
I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either. More broadly, I don’t think any company adopting the approach portrayed could survive, much less thrive, in today’s highly competitive tech hiring market. The people we hire here are the best of the best. You are recruited every day by other world-class companies, and you can work anywhere you want.
I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company.
What the Pilot Program Isn’t—and What It Could Be
Because Amazon workers participating in the program will get full benefits, there’s one thing the pilot definitely isn’t: an attempt to get around Obamacare regulations. Still, as Tim Worstall points out at Forbes, it’s an idea that makes sense economically for Amazon.
“…they’re going cruising for talent among women with children,” he writes. “And given the current workplace set up, where employers are most hesitant to offer management career paths to those working part time, this may well work for them. And if it does then we’d expect to see this spread to other companies, one effect of which will be to close up, some little bit, that gender pay gap.”
Another thing the pilot program definitely isn’t: the first move toward an all part-time Amazon. A spokesman for the company told The Washington Post that there are no plans to expand the program companywide.
However, if it succeeds, the program could have positive implications for more than just Amazon employees.
“A lot of companies have talked about wanting to lower hours but don’t seem to actually go about doing it,” Ellen Galinsky, president and founder of the Families and Work Institute, told The Washington Post. “There has for a very long time been a stigma against working reduced hours, or part-time work. Even names like that, ‘part-time’ or ‘reduced,’ make it seem like a deviation from the norm, like you’re doing less.”
Galinsky told WaPo that she hopes a company as big as Amazon might help break the taboo.
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