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Amazon’s latest experiment with a 30 hour work week

September 7, 2016

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Last August, the New York Times published a lengthy article providing insights into what was portrayed as a grueling and intense culture at retail giant Amazon.  The Times interviewed more than 100 current and former Amazon employees who described a work environment with extreme workloads, a culture that encourages internal competition, and a forced ranking performance management system that results in termination of low performers in a process nicknamed as “purposeful Darwinism.”  In contradiction to this, they are now offering a 30-hour work week to select employees.  Is this a new trend?

In a recent announcement by Amazon, they are implementing a pilot program, whereby teams of specialized employees including their managers, will work a 30-hour work week.  The stated goal of the program is “to create a work environment that is tailored to a reduced schedule and still fosters success and career growth.”  While Amazon currently employs more than 240,000 employees, this new program is aimed at only a small percentage of employees.  

The pilot program is limited to three “two pizza” teams, in other words, the amount of people you can feed with two pizzas (about a dozen) and will start with employees in information technology specialists roles in the Human Resource Department.   These employees and their managers will work the same core hours Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with the remaining 14 hours distributed as flex work throughout the week.  These employees will also have the option to transition to full-time employment.

While Amazon currently employs many part-time employees, what sets this program apart is that the whole team is arranged around the same part-time schedule.  These employees will be covered by the same benefits as full-time 40 hours a week workers, but their salaries will be pro-rated at 75% of full-time pay.  The launch of the program was followed by an Amazon event titled “Reinventing the Work-Life Ratio for Tech Talent.”

Many have speculated that this move is in response to the less than flattering New York Times article last year.  According to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo, “It’s about creating a diverse work environment.”  He also recognizes “that a traditional work schedule may not be a one-size-fits-all model.”  The following statement was posted by Amazon to further explain the program, “While the part-time employees’ projects will be carefully managed to align with schedules, they will share the same objective of all of our teams: to build great things on behalf of our customers.” 

While this 30 hour a week pilot program is new to Amazon, other notable employers have already implemented similar programs.  Public accounting firms such as KPMG and Deloitte have long had available the ability for employees to work reduced and tailored work schedules (these arrangements must be approved by managers).  

Tax advisory services firm Ryan, LLC founded in Dallas, Texas launched an innovative program in 2008 called myRyan.  It changed the measurement of performance from hours worked to results achieved.  After implementation of the program, the company saw a turnover rate drop from 30% to 11%, profits nearly doubled and client satisfaction increased.

Treehouse, an online education company, is well known for their 4 day work week.  Employees work normal hours Monday through Thursday (not 10-hour days) and are paid their full salaries.  According to CEO Ryan Carson, “Thirty two hours of higher quality work is better than 40 hours of lower quality work.”

Over the last several years, as the war for talent has intensified, companies are finding ever more creative ways to recruit and retain the best and brightest.  What remains to be seen is whether the 30-hour work week program at an hours-intensive company like Amazon starts to impact and catch on at other companies.

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