There are some bosses who believe that happiness and ease make for better work. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is reportedly not among them.

According to a scathing New York Times exposé of Amazon's corporate culture last year, employees at the tech giant can regularly be found crying at their desks due to the stress and exhaustion of working at the company. But perhaps things at Amazon are about to change.

According to a report in The Washington Post (which, it should be noted, is owned by Bezos), the company has begun a small trial of 30-hour workweeks. A few dozen employees on select tech teams will work reduced hours for 75 percent of a full-time salary. Crucially, they will be given the same benefits as full-time employees.

What's going on here?

Although Amazon strongly objected to the Times piece, almost all commentary on the move cites the damaging article as a possible driver behind the new experiment--the piece "was a huge blow, from an employer attractiveness point of view," Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath tells WaPo--there are other theories as well.

Writing on Forbes, Tim Worstall stresses that those participating in the program won't see their benefits cut, which eliminates the possibility that the shorter workweek initiative is a way to get around the obligations of Obamacare. But just because the move isn't nakedly financial in that particular way doesn't mean it isn't driven by dollars and cents concerns.

"[Economist] Gary Becker pointed out that discrimination is expensive to the people who do it. If you won't hire people because of the color of their skin then you're rejecting talent which you could have profited from," he writes. Amazon's current full-on style repels certain groups (most notably mothers), Worstall goes on to say, which puts the company out of the running for this slice of the work force. Making the place more attractive to those with responsibilities outside the office is a smart way to attract underutilized, and frankly probably less expensive, talent.

"Amazon has spotted a chance to get talent on the cheap as a result of other employers not offering child friendly, or child-care friendly, working hours. And it's driven purely by market forces," he concludes.

A new trend?

If he's right, that leaves one big question unanswered: Is this the start of a cultural (or at least tactical) shift in tech? If a renowned home for workaholics like Amazon is set to change, will other companies be nudged to follow suit in a happy race to the top for family friendliness?

Amazon is only one data point, so it's clearly impossible to spot a trend from this story alone, but Ellen Galinsky, president and founder of the Families and Work Institute, for one, "hopes that a company as big as Amazon, if it successfully rolls out the program, can help break the taboo associated with reduced hours," WaPo reports.

What's your opinion: Are we starting to see a sea change in how tech companies think about work-life balance?

Published on: Aug 29, 2016
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