Leaked Zoom rant | CEO says staff worried about bonus cuts should 'leave pity city'

CEO says staff worried about bonus cuts should 'leave pity city'

Footage has surfaced of a fiery Zoom call in which a boss berated employees for asking questions about bonuses being cut.

Andi Owen, CEO of US-based furniture chain MillerKnoll, hit out at employees who raised concerns about bonuses being cut during a company video conference.

Addressing a question raised by several employees about staying motivated in the absence of a bonus cheque, Owen said: “The most important thing we can do right now is focus on the things that we can control. None of us could’ve predicted Covid, none of us could’ve predicted supply chain, none of us could’ve predicted bank failures.

“But what we can do, is stay in front of our customers, provide the best customer service we can, get our orders out our door, treat each other well, be kind, be respectful, focus on the future, because it will be bright.

“Don’t ask about, ‘What are we going to do if we don’t get a bonus?’ Get the damn $26 million dollars.”

The context behind the $26million figure has not been publicly disclosed, but considering the issues cited earlier by Owen - such as the pandemic and supply chain issues - the dots are easily connected.

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Owen went on: “Spend your time and your effort thinking about the $26 million dollars we need and not thinking about what you’re going to do if you don’t get a bonus. Alright? Can I get some commitment for that? I would appreciate that.”

She concluded: “I had an old boss who said to me one time, ‘You can visit pity city, but you can’t live there’. So people, leave pity city. Let’s get it done".

Not surprisingly, the footage went viral and prompted a backlash against Owen, who reportedly earned an estimated $5million (est. £4.03million) in combined salary, bonuses and stock awards in 2022.

Further claims later surfaced that Owen had threatened to fire any employees who spoke to the media, after a clip of the call was shared online.

Owen has since issued an apology, writing to staff in an email: “I want to be transparent and empathetic, and as I continue to reflect on this instance, I feel terrible that my rallying cry seemed insensitive.

“What I’d hoped would energize the team to meet a challenge we’ve met many times before landed in a way that I did not intend and for that I am sorry.”

Another boss makes headlines for the wrong reasons

Owen’s comments mark the second occasion in a week that a boss has gone viral over a bizarre Zoom rant.

In a surreal digital townhall, James Clarke, the CEO of digital marketing firm Clearlink, made headlines for managing to single-handedly destroy his own company’s culture in the space of a conference call.

Like many other firms, Clearlink responded to the mass shift to home working post-pandemic by taking the opportunity to hire outside of the talent pool in their own location, and explicitly stated to staff that, whilst the office would remain, they could work from anywhere.

A relatively recent memo to staff stated that “whilst [Clarke’s] hope is that anyone near the office takes advantage of this incredible space, there are no plans to require anyone to work in the office”.

However Clarke shifted his outlook on the issue and, following a reported round of layoffs, the CEO said that ‘circumstances had changed’ and that staff within 50 miles of the office would now be required to the office for a minimum of four day out of the week.

It’s this decision that led to a surreal digital townhall, in which the CEO not only lashed out at staff, claiming that they weren’t working as hard from home, but even alleged that some 30 employees had not opened their laptops for a month, and accused many of having multiple jobs.

“I challenge any of you to outwork me, but you won’t,” he added.

The final nail in the cultural coffin came shortly after these statements, when Clarke chose to emphasise his points by praising one employee for selling his family dog – as he would no longer be in the house to look after it – as a direct response to the demand to return to the office.

“I am all in, and I know that many of you are all in too on the mission of this company,” he said when mentioning the employee who had to sell their pet.

How to properly address employee financial concerns

As a CEO earning unfathomable amounts more than the average worker, essentially telling your staff to suck it up and help make the firm more money is one of the least productive show of support possible.

So, what can leaders do to genuinely show compassion and support for their workforces?

Tina Hyland, Employment Law Adviser and Solicitor at WorkNest, recently told HR Grapevine: “2023 is going to be a challenging year.

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“Unfortunately, this does mean employers will be looking to make some difficult decisions, such as making redundancies or restructuring the workforce, as staffing costs are usually a significant expense for a business. Suppose that’s an avenue they decide to take; in that case, employers must be prepared to negotiate with employees to ensure they receive a fair deal.

“We highly recommend businesses reduce the chances of making any employees redundant by making alternative choices where possible, including implementing pay freezes or reducing benefits. However, each option comes with its own risk, so obtaining proper legal advice is critical in making the right decision for your business while minimising the negative impact on employees.

“Unfortunately, in the context of the recession, any cuts inflicted on employees due to employers’ decisions, such as restructuring or pay freezes, may be detrimental to employee’s mental health, especially with further worries to their financial wellbeing throughout this time. Supporting employees with additional benefits that might be available to them already, including Employee Assistance Programmes to retailer discounts, could help improve an employee’s bottom line in other ways.”

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