Amazon wanted me to move across the country to return to office. I left $200,000 in unvested stock options on the table when I quit.

An Amazon software-development manager was asked to move across the country for RTO.Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images

  • I was an Amazon software-development manager for more than 3 ½ years.

  • Earlier this year, I was told I had to relocate to Seattle from the East Coast to keep my job.

  • I quit, leaving more than $200,000 in unvested stock options rather than returning to the office.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a former Amazon software-development manager, who said he worked with the company for nearly four years and quit after being given a return-to-office order that would have required him to move across the country to keep his job. His identity was verified by Insider, and he has been granted anonymity due to concerns of professional backlash.

I enjoyed my work at Amazon. For more than 3 ½ years as a software-development manager, I was excited about the work we were doing and the team I was building. If it wasn't for their crackdown on their return-to-office policy, I would still be there with bells on and a smile on my face.

Instead, I started my new job, taking a $203,000 pay cut by forfeiting unvested stocks that I'd earned while working at Amazon. And even that huge cut was worth it, rather than being forced to move across the country and abandon my dream life in order to keep my job.

When Amazon executives first sent the order down in February that we had to begin preparing to return to the office, it plunged multiple internal teams into chaos. Each organization within the development side of the tech giant is managed differently.

Some managers interpreted executives' vague language as a requirement for exacting RTO dates with less than six months' notice and quickly implemented disciplinary measures for failure to comply.

Others were more lenient — but after being shuffled around through five company re-organizations within the last year, I ended up reporting to a manager who insisted I needed to work in person in Seattle by June 1, despite my most recent promotion designating mine as a remote role.

Since I began work with Amazon in April 2020, just as the COVID-19 virus prompted the company's initial work-from-home policy, I had only been in the office a handful of times. I live in New York. My wife and I just bought our dream property.

There was zero chance whatsoever I was ever going to move.

I tried negotiating. I showed them an estimate I'd received to pack up my family and move us across the country with our livestock — it would have cost $150,000 — and asked what the relocation package would look like. I didn't get an answer.

What increased stress across teams, I found from talking to other people, was the fact we knew it wasn't true that productivity decreased with working from home. And then we were being told, "We don't have the data, we just know it's true"  — a phrase so patently un-Amazonian that it became hard to sit there and preach leadership principles to my direct reports amid that messaging coming from the C-suite.

It didn't make any sense. It still doesn't.

Ultimately, after telling some of the members of my team I'd be leaving before the end of the year due to the RTO policy if I couldn't secure an extension, I ended up in a conversation with my manager where I expected to get fired. I started putting out applications for new jobs shortly after.

Of course, there were headaches there — personality conflicts and tough salary negotiations — but the RTO policy was the sole reason I decided to leave Amazon. I wish I could have stayed, but it frankly felt intentional the way they were pushing people out.

I'm excited about my new job. I'm working with a former Amazon colleague at a startup offering me roughly the same base salary as my prior job — though, of course, they couldn't compare with the Amazon stock options.

But, while they're remote-first, if they ever decided to implement an in-office work policy, I'd find a new gig.

Brad Glasser, a spokesperson for Amazon, said in an emailed statement that the company could not verify the above account after Insider declined to reveal the identity of its source, adding that a single anecdote could not characterize a company of Amazon's size.

Glasser added: "We've repeatedly made our position clear: In February, we shared with employees that we'd be asking them to start coming into the office three or more days per week beginning in May because we believe it would yield the best long-term results for our customers, business, and culture. As part of this process, we've asked a relatively small percentage of our team to relocate to be in the same location as their teams. This isn't a one-size-fit-all approach, so team hubs and relocation timelines will vary based on a number of factors, and we're communicating with employees individually and providing relocation support. As is the case with any of our policies, we expect our team to follow them and will take appropriate action if someone chooses not to do that." 

Read the original article on Business Insider