Against the backdrop of a large social spending bill languishing in Congress, and many still reeling from the economic effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic, some tentatively good news for the American worker finally arrived this week from Amazon. The online retail giant, which employs upwards of 1.51 million permanent and temporary workers, announced today a notable expansion of the benefits it offers to its hourly employees and a new program designed to help the families of military spouses in its employment.
Admittedly, the company has come under fire for alleged poor working conditions in the past, particularly in its warehouses. Before he left his role as CEO, Jeff Bezos announced a commitment to make Amazon the “World’s Best Employer.” Between raising its average starting wage, the work it is doing with the Climate Pledge and today’s announcements, I believe Amazon, under new CEO Andy Jassy, is beginning to change the narrative. Let’s take a closer look at the news and what it means for Amazon employees.
Project Juno pledges to help military families
Unless you or members of your family are active-duty military, it may come as a surprise to hear that military spouses, on average, move once every two and a half years. That’s seven times more often than their civilian counterparts. Packing up and moving your family somewhere unfamiliar is stressful and exhausting in and of itself. At the same time, your spouse could be actively deployed elsewhere and potentially not join until months after the move. On top of that, you have to find a new job in your new home, knowing that your spouse could be transferred again in a few years. And then the whole process starts all over again.
Amazon’s workforce includes over 45,000 veterans and military spouses, and amongst those that choose to leave the company, according to Amazon, the number one reason cited was a family move. This is bad for Amazon—no company in the current job market, big or small, can afford to be hemorrhaging talent. More importantly, though, it’s bad for the financial security of our brave service people and their families. According to Amazon, military spouse unemployment has topped out at over 25% for the last ten years and is one of the leading reasons active service members choose to leave the armed forces.
Project Juno is Amazon’s attempt to alleviate this problem. Essentially, it is a tool that helps soon-to-be-uprooted military spouses find the same job (if available) or a similar role at the company in their new locale. The solution works by leveraging Amazon’s internal global system for managing employee information—simply input the new home location and the timeline for the move and the system will get to work. According to Amazon, employees will receive an update on the search within 48 hours of submitting it. It’s worth mentioning that only a company with Amazon’s geographic footprint could pull something like Project Juno off. With hundreds of Amazon sites hiring in over forty U.S. states, I would imagine the odds of finding a suitable replacement job are better than you’d find with most employers.
The Project Juno news comes with the side announcement that Amazon intends to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by 2024, emphasizing retainment, development and promoting these hires.
One of the biggest challenges of working for hourly pay is the lack of benefits typically relegated to salaried positions. As many parents are returning to the workforce, the country is still midst the caregiving crisis spurred by Covid-19. Childcare is hard to find and prohibitively expensive. Many hourly positions lack the proper family support resources and flexible scheduling options to make them an employment option for a working parent. And that’s if they even offer anything resembling a living wage.
With that in mind, Amazon announced a raft of new benefits for its frontline hourly employees through a program it calls FamilyFlex. The new benefits, accessible by both new and existing employees, fall into three categories—flexible scheduling, flexible pay and a generous array of care options and resources to support new and expecting parents.
First, the program will let hourly employees customize their schedule, choosing it and changing it as needed if a family emergency or something else comes up. If an employee wants to keep a reliable, set schedule, week after week, they can do that. But they can also swap shifts with other employees up to the last minute or reschedule their shift to a different day that week. These flexible schedules are available specifically to workers in its U.S. fulfillment and delivery network, with plans to expand further. Another flex option is what Amazon calls Anytime Shifts, which allows employees in select roles to choose the time and type of shift that suits them best. These shifts are cancellable up to 16 hours before they begin. Eligible employees can access and manage Anytime Shifts and the other new flexible scheduling options with just a couple of clicks via Amazon’s internal desktop and mobile app.
Next, Amazon announced a new flexible pay option it calls Anytime Pay. Many of us have had a situation where payday couldn’t come soon enough at some point in our lives. Say it’s Sunday, you need to buy your groceries for the week, but you’re broke until the direct deposit hits on Friday morning. Through Anytime Pay, eligible Amazon employees can transfer most of their wages accrued since their last paycheck to a Visa pay card. You can use the pay card anywhere that accepts Visa, even withdrawing cash at participating ATMs or transferring the balance to a regular bank account. None of these cost a thing. Over 150,000 Amazon employees can currently access this benefit.
The last component, new family care options and resources for employees is the broadest news item. FamilyFlex now offers Amazon employees a variety of fully paid pregnancy and parental leave options for eligible new parents. Through a new option called Leave Share, employees also can give up to six weeks of paid parental leave to their spouse or partner if they aren’t eligible at their place of employment. Another program, Ramp Back, gives new parents the flexibility to work partial work hours for eight consecutive weeks post-birth or adoption. Under FamilyFlex, new adoptive parents can take up to six weeks of paid leave and be reimbursed for qualified adoption expenses up to $5,000 a child.
Amazon’s family support doesn’t stop after birth. FlexFamily also gives employees access to a free network of over two million childcare, elder care and other care providers, covering subscription fees to services like UrbanSitter, Sittercity and Years Ahead. Admittedly, this sounds better than it is—Amazon helps you find the caregiver, but you still have to pay for the care itself. Which, as mentioned earlier, is expensive. Amazon also offers waived registration fees (up to $250) and preferred enrollment to Bright Horizons childcare centers along with tuition discounts at other participating partner centers, discounted tutoring and test-prep services.
Meanwhile, the Rethink program provides Amazon employees with free consultations, training videos, and a library of online resources for parenting children with autism, ADHD, and other developmental disabilities. Parents gain access to a dedicated behavior expert who is there (through ongoing, remote consultations) to answer specific questions and work with your child on socialization, self-help, academics and other skills.
Lastly, but crucial as we collectively process the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic are the mental health resources Amazon provides to its employees and their families. Amazon’s Resources for Living program offers free, 24/7 access to personalized, confidential and convenient mental health support. This includes three free one-on-one therapy sessions, per topic, per person living in an Amazon employee’s household.
Short of similar family support benefits becoming law, it will continue to fall to employers to willingly provide the support resources workers need for themselves and their families. And when it comes to hourly positions, many do not. Amazon, despite some perceived past missteps is making necessary changes to take better care of its frontline workers. At the very least, these new benefits should give Amazon an edge over the other hourly employers struggling to attract applicants in the current job market. If so, watch for others to match what Amazon’s doing here in the months and years to come.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.