This Month in Seattle Tech

Amazon and Microsoft Bump Pay During the Tech Stock Crash

Falling share prices didn't stop Seattle's biggest companies from promising massive compensation packages.

By Benjamin Cassidy May 31, 2022

At Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting last week, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy shrugged off a question about the company’s falling share price with a Wall Street adage.

“In the short term, the stock market tends to be a voting machine,” he said, “and in the long term, it tends to be a weighing machine.” Translation: Public opinion might affect a stock’s performance day to day, but over time, the value of a share reflects the financial heft of the company behind it.

In Amazon’s case, it’s also another way of saying, “We’ll be just fine, thank you.” Jassy secured a nearly $213 million compensation package during that shareholder meeting. And the e-commerce giant isn’t just dipping into its coffers for the C-suite. Earlier this year, Amazon raised its maximum base salary for employees from $160,000 to $350,000, with pay bands for some corporate positions rising tens of thousands of dollars. In May, Microsoft responded in kind, nearly doubling its salary budget for merit-based bumps and broadening its stock compensation range.

But for the first time in a long time, more shares might not seem more attractive to prospective big-tech corporate workers. Microsoft’s stock price is down almost 20 percent in 2022, and Amazon’s roughly 33 percent, as part of a tech sell-off unlike any the market has seen since at least the Great Recession. Meta has responded with a hiring freeze. Other tech companies, like Netflix and Cameo, have announced layoffs. In perhaps the most telling sign we’re not in 2021 anymore, Robinhood, the app behind the meme stock revolution, has also recently laid off about nine percent of its full-time employees.

In this climate, Amazon and Microsoft can offer salary guarantees in case workers get antsy about sticking around for all those restricted stock units to vest. But leaked internal communications at both companies suggest the true driver of these changes has been a tight labor market in which workers have the upper hand.

Jill Odegard, a partner and principal consultant at compensation consulting firm Applied HR Strategies, says the expanding footprint of Silicon Valleybased tech companies in the Puget Sound region (see: Google’s Kirkland campus) means local tech institutions can’t rest on their laurels. Tech job postings in the Puget Sound region were up 40 percent during the first four months of 2022, per CompTIA’s latest IT jobs report. Swaying applicants requires shelling out.

Companies not only need to entice job-seekers but also ward off pay compression—when more experienced workers in the same job (or a higher-level one) find that newcomers are making as much as them. Amid high inflation, Odegard has found her clients have set aside salary budgets for 2022 that account for eight to 10 percent pay bumps, via merit raises and other adjustments to attract and retain talent. Normally, that number would be around four or five percent. “I still think we’re going to be in a very tight market, even if some of the hiring slows,” says Odegard.

Which is fine if you’re Amazon or Microsoft, with plenty of cash on hand to wait out a stock market downturn. If you’re a startup? Not so much, perhaps, as venture capitalists tighten their belts. Applicants should proceed cautiously with early-stage companies touting aspirational valuations, as Textio CEO Kieran Snyder noted recently. The weighing machine, after all, doesn’t value paper tigers.

Bits and Bytes. Need a stock talk palate cleanser? Here’s an all-volunteer Seattle tech site, Clearviction, that helps people convicted of misdemeanors vacate records that hinder job and housing hunts. Speaking of civic tech, there’s been a shake-up in the local nonprofit sector as Washington Technology Industry Association has acquired North Seattle College has received the final OK for a computer science bachelor’s degree program. And Seattle tech bros, in the broadest definition of that term, are still everywhere.

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