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Why is Amazon paying workers up to $5,000 to quit?

An employee prepares order at Amazon's San Bernardino Fulfillment Center October 29, 2013 in San Bernardino, California.(Photo: KING)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. hopes the workers in its scores of fulfillment centers across the USA are happy in their jobs.

But if they're not and would rather be doing something else, Amazon has a deal: The company will pay them a bonus up to $5,000 to leave.

In a program that Amazon aptly calls Pay to Quit, those who aren't committed to their jobs are urged to leave on their own and can get $2,000 in severance pay in the first year of employment with the bonus topping out at $5,000 in the fourth year.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos explained the program in his 2013 letter to shareholders, released this week.

Pay to Quit is pretty simple, he said. 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 $1,000 a year until it reaches $5,000.

The headline on the offer is 'Please Don't Take This Offer,' he noted. We hope they don't take the offer. We want them to stay.

But why make such an offer at all?

The goal is to encourage folks to take a moment and think about what they really want, Bezos said in the letter. In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don't want to be isn't healthy for the employee or the company., an Amazon subsidiary that sells shoes and other apparel, started the program, Bezos said. Amazon purchased Zappos in 2009 for $850 million.

Only workers in the fulfillment centers, where customer orders are packed and shipped, are eligible for the program, Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said.

A small percentage of employees take the offer, she said. We want them to stay, but we also only want people who want to be here. It encourages them to think about what they want.

Amazon also offers an education program, Career Choice, in which the company pre-pays 95% of the tuition for workers who want to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon, Bezos said in the shareholders' letter.

The goal of both programs is to enable choice, he said.

We know that for some of our fulfillment center employees, Amazon will be a career, he said. For others, Amazon might be a stepping stone on the way to a job somewhere else a job that may require new skills. If the right training can make the difference, we want to help.

The tuition program isn't limited to the fulfillment centers, Cheeseman said. It's open to all hourly employees at Amazon.

Amazon 2013 Letter to Shareholders

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