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Amazon employees are furious about RTO mandate


Employees at Amazon are fighting a mandate to return to offices at least three days a week, creating a petition asking CEO Andy Jassy to reconsider a policy they say has “shattered their trust” in the company’s leadership.

Last week, Jassy announced that employees should be spending the “majority of the time” in the office starting May 1, putting an end to the pandemic-era policy that had allowed managers and their teams to decide what worked best for them. Echoing executives such as Disney’s Bob Iger and Starbucks’s Howard Schultz, who have recently asked employees to come back to offices more often, Jassy cited the need for improved collaboration and a stronger company culture.

Jassy also said he hoped returning to offices more would “provide a boost” for thousands of surrounding businesses.

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“We know that it won’t be perfect at first, but the office experience will steadily improve over the coming months (and years) as our real estate and facilities teams smooth out the wrinkles,” Jassy said in a blog post on Feb. 17. “Our communities matter to us, and where we can play a further role in helping them recover from the challenges of the last few years, we’re excited to do so.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request from The Washington Post. The Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Many employees are irate about the request, especially those who joined the company with the expectation that remote work would be sticking around. Nearly 14,000 workers joined an internal Slack channel geared toward advocating for remote work and expressing concerns about the new policy, according to reporting from CNBC.

Following in the footsteps of workers at Disney and Apple, employees also drafted a petition calling on the company to reconsider. The petition asks Amazon to “protect its role and status as a global retail and tech leader by immediately canceling the RTO policy and issuing a new policy that allows employees to work remotely or more flexibly, if they choose to do so, as their team and job role permits,” according to reporting from Business Insider.

Many concerns raised by employees highlight the general challenges companies are facing in adapting to hybrid work schedules, which was the dominant style of office work for remote-capable workers as of November, according to data from Gallup. Some appear ready to quit if Amazon follows through with the new return-to-work policy.

“I’m not going back and I’m on a work visa,” one Amazon employee said after the announcement on Blind, the anonymous corporate messaging board. “Ready to pay the price.”

“I physically can’t go to office due to a medical condition,” said another. “I am basically bedbound but manage to have held on to this job thanks to wfh. So I will have to quit if they don’t make an exception.”

Amazon joins corporate giants such as Disney, General Motors, Starbucks and Vanguard in asking employees to come back to offices more frequently in the new year. And there have been some signs that such requests are working: Earlier this month, U.S. office occupancy broke 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels for the first time, according to data tracked by Kastle Systems across 10 of the country’s top metro areas. But occupancy has fallen in recent weeks, and many experts think we could be approaching a post-pandemic equilibrium.

America’s offices are now half-full. They may not get much fuller.

The tug-of-war over how work is done has dominated dialogue between employers and employees in the post-pandemic landscape.

Some employees have resisted hard mandates to return: They’ve left for remote opportunities elsewhere or even flouted in-office requirements, flexing worker leverage while the labor market remains hot. But employers have regained some power in recent months as rising layoffs threaten job security. Disney and Amazon slashed thousands of positions before announcing return-to-office mandates.

“There’s clearly a big divide between employers and employees,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “This is a moment where we’re seeing employers feeling the power dynamic shifting.”

In the earlier days of the pandemic, Amazon had wavered on how much freedom to give workers to work remotely, announcing at one point in 2021 that it would be returning to an “office-centric culture,” only to reverse course and allow a mix of in-person and remote work.

In the petition, employees pointed to internal data that shows many favor working remotely, with the possibility to come occasionally to the office for meetups with colleagues. Others prefer coming in at most two days a week.

“Many employees trusted these statements and planned for a life where their employer wouldn’t force them to return to the office,” a draft of the petition reads. “The RTO mandate shattered their trust in Amazon’s leaders.”

Amazon’s clash over flexible work mirrors what’s unfolding at Disney, which has posed one of the strictest return-to-office requirements among big companies by asking employees to come in at least four days a week starting in March.

More than 2,300 employees have signed a petition asking CEO Iger to rethink the policy, arguing it will lead to “forced resignations among some of our most hard-to-replace talent and vulnerable communities” while “dramatically reducing productivity, output, and efficiency.”

“This policy will slow, or even reverse, our post-COVID recovery and growth by creating critical resource shortages and causing irreplaceable institutional knowledge loss,” employees wrote.

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