SEATTLE — Back when most Amazon employees were still working from home, the company began offering a new perk to those who ventured into the offices — free coffee.
As a way to encourage workers to come back to campus, Amazon started a new program that allowed employees one free drink from the coffee shops located inside Amazon’s office buildings in Seattle and elsewhere. Lattes and cappuccinos included.
That perk stayed in place through waves of layoffs, and a shift from remote work to a mandate to be in the office at least three times a week. But, in November, Amazon began quietly placing signs in the cafes announcing the free coffee would dry up. The program was set to end in January.
Less than a week after announcing the end date, though, Amazon reversed course and extended the program.
Behind the scenes, roughly 10,000 employees asked Amazon to reconsider, noting that the perk increased productivity, employee morale and the in-person collaboration the company said it was looking for with its return-to-office mandate.
Ending the perk was yet another hit to weary employees who had already faced unexpected layoffs and new work requirements, said two current employees who spoke with The Seattle Times and asked to remain anonymous.
On an internal discussion board, several workers said the decision to take away coffee drinks also had them questioning Amazon’s commitment to be “Earth’s Best Employer,” referencing a 2021 directive from then-CEO Jeff Bezos.
“Free coffee is a small perk that shows employees they are valued,” one worker wrote, according to screenshots shared with The Seattle Times. “The cost of coffee is minor compared to the benefits of happy, energetic employees.”
Amazon said Tuesday it considered a number of factors when it made decisions regarding employee benefits and that it is happy to continue offering free coffee for workers.
This isn’t the first time Amazon has considered ending the free coffee program. Last December, it put up signs indicating the benefit would end the following month but later walked that back.
On Amazon’s internal discussion board, 1,000 people “upvoted,” or expressed support, for a ticket asking Amazon to reconsider the switch last December. The digital tickets are a way Amazon employees offer feedback; employees can upvote tickets filed by colleagues and add their own comments. Amazon management can also respond, opening another channel of communication between employees and decision-makers.
This year, more than 10,000 people upvoted a similar ticket, according to the employees who spoke with The Seattle Times.
In the year since that initial ticket was filed, Amazon has called employees back to the office and executed several rounds of layoffs, resulting in more than 27,000 job cuts. Those layoffs left many employees still at the company feeling undervalued and distrustful of their employer, according to interviews with several workers who asked to remain anonymous. Amazon announced “several hundred” more job cuts in November.
Meanwhile, Amazon began requiring employees to work from the office at least three times a week in May, and has recently ramped up enforcement of that mandate, including by tracking employees’ badge swipes in and out of buildings, and reportedly tying promotions to workers’ compliance. Amazon has also begun enforcing a requirement that some employees relocate to be closer to certain office hubs.
Employees rallied several times over the last year to ask Amazon to reconsider its return-to-office mandate, including a petition that garnered 30,000 signatures, according to organizers. In May, hundreds of employees walked out in protest on Amazon’s HQ1 campus in South Lake Union, with others joining virtually from Zoom.
Those efforts did not sway Amazon leaders. One vocal critic of the office mandate has since accused Amazon of illegal retaliation for her advocacy efforts.
Last December, when asking Amazon to continue its free coffee program, one employee made reference to Amazon’s leadership principles, a long list of attributes Amazon encourages workers to follow.
“In the spirit of Disagree and Commit I would like to respectfully request that you reconsider the decision,” the employee wrote in the ticket, which was shared with The Seattle Times. “I and several members of my team feel very strongly that this is a great benefit that provides a real ROI [return on investment] to the business. ...
“During a time when many of us have anxiety about job security, this is one very small, but very meaningful way you can keep us motivated.”
The employee included excerpts from a blog post from Nescafe-producing food giant Nestle that said providing coffee varieties and specialty drinks in the office increases productivity because workers wouldn’t have to take coffee runs.
Using the same digital message board a year later, an employee wrote another ticket on Nov. 29 asking other workers to “upvote” the file if they didn’t want the coffee program to end. Amazon didn’t respond to the ticket but posted signs noting the program had been extended by the following Tuesday.
In comments on that ticket, employees noted the free coffee program offered more than just caffeine, according to screenshots shared with The Seattle Times. Workers said the program made the coffee shops a “vital social hub” for colleagues to mingle, increased employee morale and signified Amazon’s investment in its employee’s well-being.
Many pointed to Amazon’s desire for employees to be back in the office to promote serendipitous interactions that spark collaboration and innovation. The free coffee benefit was a direct way to make those connections happen, they said.
“Given the drive for mass Return to Office, it seems counterproductive to reduce the benefit of physically going into office,” one employee wrote. “Taking away benefits is never good for employee morale.”
Another worker asked: “How are we supposed to foster serendipity if we aren’t leaving our desks for free espresso?”