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Killing the Spirit -- One Worker Goes From Committed, To Wanting To Be Committed

Carrie Pierce’s story provides insight into how employee commitment can quickly sour when the wrong ingredients are poured into the workforce mix.

November 1, 1998
Related Topics: Motivating Employees, Ethics
There are 30 months that Carrie Pierce would really rather forget. Unfortunately, she can’t. Pierce was the victim of an employment relationship that went terribly wrong -- turning from commitment into condemnation. Although she can now joke that she may need therapy to help her put the whole experience into perspective, it’s no laughing matter. While it’s hard to believe that such loyalty lapses are happening in today’s workplace, Pierce’s story provides insight into how employee commitment can quickly sour when the wrong ingredients are poured into the workforce mix.

Pierce had worked in the film industry for years as an independent aesthetician doing makeup, including special-effects makeup. She had owned her own business for several years and consulted with many firms when she was recruited by a cutting-edge, start-up skin-care company (which shall remain nameless at Pierce’s request) that was based in Japan, but had a couple of U.S. divisions. The firm had several thousand employees between its overseas and American locations.

Pierce was first hired as a consultant, bringing all her experience as a makeup artist to bear in letting the firm in on the pulse of the skin-care and makeup industry. Initially, she helped the company design packaging, ran test formulations and consulted on price points. From there, she became the company’s director of education, teaching the growing company’s internal and field employees about the company’s products, customer service techniques and basic company philosophy, and also wrote training manuals.

Later, she was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing, but also handled all the employee-relations issues -- even though she had no formal HR title. It was expected that she keep all her old duties, even though she was given executive responsibilities, as well. “When I first started, and even to the point I was promoted to vice president, I was very pleased [with the company],” says Pierce. “At the beginning, they seemed to understand what I was bringing to the company and I saw a great deal of potential. But as I went on, it became clear to me that many people were very unhappy. I’ve never met so many discontented people in my whole life.” One of the biggest reasons, she says, is that the president of her division was a conniving, crooked, underhanded man. “When I finally left, several other people also left and a whole division of the company just collapsed because of this one man’s mismanagement,” she says. Pierce explains that the president, and most of those directly below him, had questionable, often unethical, ways of doing business.

Outwardly, it seemed like the perks and benefits were good. She admits she got a big salary and great benefits. But as time went on, she discovered that another executive in the same position at the firm’s sister company was earning $60,000 more a year than she did -- and was doing less than she was. Pierce describes how she brought in several national accounts and designed a marketing plan that went gangbusters -- none of which her counterpart did. “I think the attitude was so bad in the company because most people assumed she was sleeping with the boss,” says Pierce. “And everyone talked about it. It’s kind of like a Clinton thing.”

On a management level, the president was completely disorganized and was loyal to whoever was in front of him at any given time, then he’d turn on them behind their backs. He’d keep “dead wood” around because he was afraid to fire people, even though everyone knew who the non-performers were, and resented them.

All the while, Pierce couldn’t believe she found herself in the middle of such a predicament. “It knocked the wind out of my sails for many, many months afterward,” says Pierce. “I don’t know that I’ll ever approach work the same way. It was such a foul, negative environment.”

Pierce now writes industry-related articles in the beauty business and also writes children’s books. “I guess I went from a high-falutin’ power structure to wanting to just sit and draw pictures,” she adds. “I want something cuddly and fluffy in my life.”

The moral of the story is: There’s no substitute for ethical, visionary leadership. Like attracts like. Companies that don’t shape up will see employees shipping out.

Workforce, November 1998, Vol. 77, No. 11, pp. 47.

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