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Amazon tracks and targets US staff over failure to work 3 days in office

Amazon has tracked the attendance of US-based workers and targeted those failing to comply with its hybrid working policy, becoming the latest employer to take a more aggressive approach to forcing staff back to the office.

The Seattle-based tech group this week singled out some staff members to tell them they were “not currently meeting our expectation of joining your colleagues in the office at least three days a week”, according to an email seen by the Financial Times.

“We expect you to start coming into the office three or more days a week now,” the email said. The missive to a select number of employees prompted some to raise concerns about privacy while others said they had received the email in error.

The monitoring of attendance in the US appeared to be linked to staff tapping in with their identification passes. In response to staff complaints over the emails, Amazon this week admitted “there may be instances where we have it wrong”, adding that it had “taken several steps” to ensure the email “went to the correct recipients”, according to a note seen by the FT.

Amazon said the email had been sent to employees who had “badged in fewer than three days a week for five or more of the past eight weeks [or] have not badged in three days a week for three or more of the past four weeks”. The company declined to comment.

Amazon is among a growing list of employers worldwide that have in recent months asked staff to return to the office more regularly following years of disruption and remote working during the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon’s three-day policy began on May 1.

Staff at Google are expected to be in the office three days a week, and the company has told workers that attendance may affect performance reviews, in an effort to crack down on the worst offenders who have resisted returning to the office.

Video conferencing company Zoom told employees this week that employees living within 50 miles of one of its offices had to attend in person at least two days a week. 

Meanwhile, Publicis, the advertising agency, has warned its US staff that failure to comply with its three-days-a-week policy could have implications for their pay and chances of promotion, according to AdWeek.

“Failure to meet the 3 day/week in-office expectation post Labor Day may impact performance outcomes, including salary increases, bonus payouts and/or promotion opportunities,” the agency wrote to workers, AdWeek reported this week.

Citigroup has warned it will “hold colleagues accountable” if they do not comply with the bank’s policies on office attendance, Bloomberg reported in June.

The new push from Amazon and others reflects hardening attitudes among business leaders who have largely accommodated employees’ desire for flexible working arrangements for three years.

“I think that they tried the carrot for quite some time and in many respects it didn’t work and there is a shift to more of a stick mentality now,” said Neda Shemluck, a managing director at Deloitte.

However, Shemluck warned: “A lot of employers are forgetting there is always a war for talent and employees have a lot more options than they had.”

Nick Bloom, a Stanford economics professor who studies workplace data, said office occupancy remained “pancake flat” despite high-profile moves to introduce or enforce return-to-office mandates.

“For every company that is calling people back in, there have to be others that are doing the reverse,” he said, adding that employers had been more willing to allow people in functions such as IT and human resources to work remotely, often from cheaper locations than San Francisco’s Bay Area.

Surveys suggested that most employees wanted to work in person two to three days a week but were less keen on mandates, said Bloom. “It’s kind of like air conditioning — whatever temperature you have it in the office, somebody wants it colder and somebody else wants it hotter.”

David Tolley, chief executive of WeWork, said this week that one reason for the office-space company’s weak occupancy figures in the second quarter of this year was that return-to-office trends in the US, its home market, were lagging behind those in other parts of the world.

Additional reporting by Richard Waters

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