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MillerKnoll CEO Faces Backlash for “Leave Pity City” Comment on Employee Bonuses

In a recent viral video, Andi Owen, CEO of furniture conglomerate MillerKnoll, stirred up controversy by telling employees to stop worrying about potential bonuses and “leave pity city.” The internet was quick to respond, with many criticizing the high-paid executive’s remarks as insensitive during a time of economic uncertainty.

In an attempt to clarify the situation, MillerKnoll explained that the clip was taken out of context and the comment was intended to motivate employees to focus on reaching the company’s $26 million sales goal. Owen has since sent an apology email to staff, expressing regret for her “insensitive” rallying cry.

The Changing Role of CEOs

The pandemic and economic turbulence of recent years have forced CEOs, once known for their casual attire and upbeat demeanor, to take on a more serious and sometimes unpopular role. When delivering bad news is mishandled, it tends to go viral, such as instances of CEOs laying off employees via mass Zoom meetings or posting emotional selfies about letting staff go.

The lack of empathy for C-suite missteps may be related to the widening pay gap between executives and workers. A July report from the AFL-CIO, the largest US federation of trade unions, revealed that the average S&P 500 CEO made approximately $18.3 million in 2021, roughly 324 times the median salary of workers.

The Takeaway

Owen’s attempt to energize employees to sell high-end chairs was met with widespread disapproval, especially considering her own financial standing. According to Fortune, Owen received $3.9 million in incentive-based compensation last fiscal year, in addition to her $1.1 million salary. The incident serves as a reminder for executives to be mindful of their messaging and sensitive to the concerns of their employees during challenging times.