CEO Is Going Viral For Telling Employees To ‘Leave Pity City’ After Not Getting Bonuses

Close up of a person with a dollar sign in their eye

Motivating a team is a crucial task for any CEO, but it’s not always an easy one. While some CEOs try to encourage their team by focusing on the company’s mission and vision, others may take a more self-centered approach, attempting to motivate their team by appealing to their own interests or ego.

Especially when money is involved. 

Like a ball hog in a basketball game that takes every shot, this approach often backfires, as it can make the CEO appear selfish and disconnected from their team.

Working for a company that’s going through financial struggles can be frustrating, particularly when employees are expected to make sacrifices while the C-suite leadership is not held to the same standards. Employees will be asked to cut hours, salary, or forgo bonuses, while CEOs receive a golden parachute from the company’s shareholders for making difficult decisions about cutting costs and achieving profitability.

Related: 7 Effective Ways That You Can Get A Raise Without Asking

In an era of Zoom meetings and remote work, this strategy can blow up in one’s face, damaging the public reputation of the company via the way it treats its workers while in ruthless pursuit of the bottom line.

That’s exactly what appears to be happening with MillerKnoll, the company behind furniture brand Herman Miller and other global furniture brands.

The Andi Owen, the President and CEO of MillerKnoll, received a comp package valued at around $5 million in 2022, according to a public filing. According to the filing, she received around $1.1 million as a base salary, with an additional $1.3 received as a bonus. The rest was in stock and stock options, along with other forms of compensation. 

According to a regulatory filing, Owens was paid $6.4 million in the prior fiscal year, so her compensation package decreased in 2022 compared to 2021. 

CEO goes viral when asked about employee bonuses 

Owen is currently going viral in a Zoom clip posted on Twitter. The CEO addresses a question from an employee about how they can stay motivated when employees are not getting bonuses. It appears to be from an internal meeting with employees in the company.

A similar video clip was originally posted on TikTok.

“Questions came through about, ‘How can we stay motivated if we’re not going to get a bonus… What can we do? What can we do?’ Some of them were nice, and some of them were not so nice,” the CEO asks. 

Owen then expresses annoyance at the question, appearing to critique the company’s employees for not hitting a goal and thinking about their bonus instead of the company’s goals, presumably tied to her seven-figure compensation package. 

“The most important thing we can do right now is focus on the things that we can control,” Owens says in the video clip. “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,” she said.

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

She then adds an anecdote about an old boss telling her you cant live in “pity city” 

“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.” She finishes with a “have a great day.” 

CEO’s viral rant strikes a nerve 

The backlash from the leaked video clip has been significant. It’s one thing for a leader to ask their employees to work harder. But it’s straight up demoralizing to ask employees to work harder when their bonuses have been cancelled, yet the leader’s own compensation has remained significant. 

At the end of the day, everyone’s time is worth something. Employees asking about bonuses are valid. The response to “just work harder” from the top of the company comes across as tone deaf and greedy.

On Twitter, one person quote tweeted saying “the ugliness of greed knows no gender.”

Another adds: “I can’t see the board keeping this person as CEO. In this video she absurdly tells the employees to not stay in puty city over not getting their bonus. She makes millions in salary.”

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Another comments: “You’re already not getting a bonus. But then your employer tells you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus on workign even harder for the company.”

Another puts the size of her comp package in perspective: “If you make 75K a year, which is more than the median household income in the U.S, it would take 85 years to clear 6.4 mil… BEFORE TAXES”

How can CEOs motivate employees and still be compensated?

One effective way for CEOs to motivate their employees while still being compensated for their work without appearing self-centered is by taking a symbolic $1 salary.

Many famous CEOs have used this approach, including Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jeremy Stoppelman of YEP, and Larry Ellison of Oracle.

By doing so, they show their commitment to the success of their company, align their interests with shareholders, and encourage decisions that benefit the company’s long-term health, while also avoiding situations where employees feel bitter about compensation discrepancies, such as the one at MillerKnoll.

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B. Carlisle

Contributing editor at Wealth Gang. An entrepreneur at heart, he's passionate about meaningful ways to leverage technology and social media for business opportunities and side hustles.