Stopping Amway in the workplace?
June 14, 2005 1:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop a multilevel marketer from infiltrating my company?

I work in a smaller office of a large multinational consulting corporation. I am a new, junior employee (started in September), and I joined the social committee shortly after I joined the company. This committee's mandate is to organize events that improve the employee experience, blah blah blah, you know the deal. We have a $30K annual budget for 100 employees, which ain't too shabby.

We're currently holding our annual June Wellness month, promoting health, happiness, blah blah blah. Last week the most senior member of the social committee (a secretary for one of the other departments) sent us a gung ho email about bringing in speakers from Nikken to speak about all their "magnetic" and "far infra-red" therapeutic products. Our employer provides lunch for these events in order to entice employees into attending.

I instantly objected, calling this stuff quackery that relies on the placebo effect. I said all this in one of those emails that you regret clicking the "Send" button just a little too quickly. While my email wasn't outrageously rude (and I certainly wouldn't get in trouble for it if it were forwarded on to, say, the CEO), it was curt and condescending enough to undermine my case against Nikken.

Today, this secretary sent out an email to the whole group saying that the event was going ahead, and she had spoken privately to most of the group and they had given her their backing.

I'm quite ticked off because:
a) I am a skeptic that objects vehemently to this magnetic and infrared bullshit
b) I am worried that an event like this will destroy the credibility of the social committee and result in us losing our budget. Our credibility is already on shaky ground as we blew $1200 on a lunch for ourselves last Christmas, and the CEO (understandably) threw a hissyfit.
c) I object to our employer paying for lunch for an outside company to shill its products to us.
d) I object to this secretary exploiting the social committee for her own financial gain.

How can I handle this situation without pissing people off even more than I already have? I could just put up with it, but I'd rather not if there's a diplomatic solution. I had a bad feeling about this company as soon as I read the email, and Googling about it tonight confirmed my suspicions: Nikken seems to be a multilevel marketing company along the lines of Amway. See here and here.
posted by randomstriker to Work & Money (15 answers total)
If you really care about this the first thing I would do is privately talk to "most of the group" yourself and see what they say and what you can persuade them of. If everyone else on the committee is really against you, then you will only cause trouble for yourself.

I am a new, junior employee (started in September)

Whoa, there sparky. Might be a little early for you to be making waves on something like this. But if you care about the wrongs being done here more than your career at this company, then go right ahead.

Picking your battles sucks, but the alternative is worse.
posted by grouse at 1:54 AM on June 14, 2005

Okay, if you're in it for the long term you'll need to move on past the email you shouldn't have sent and possibly tough it out through the Nikken luncheon. However, this is a time when there may be policies or guidelines that can help you out, if not maybe now is the time to write some.

Simply put, you should be able to find a way to finesse guidelines about the social club's moneys not going to promote private companies [even ones with perfectly reasonable products they want to sell, as well as folks like Amway and the magnet kids] without focusing on the specific product being promoted. So, you should be able to make the same pitch about not having Nikken come that you make about any other vendor, even ones you might agree with. As a result, the "credibility" issue becomes less of an issue and the "we don't want to have a sales meeting during lunch" does.

I think diplomacy may involve some sort of small backpedal along with moving forward on general guidelines "Gee, sorry I lost my cool over the magnet luncheon but I do think we need to set up some guidelines about what sorts of events we spend money on....."

The good news, if there is any, is that the secretary problem has one shot at using her MLM skills to infiltrate, after that there is no good reason to have a second informational magnet lunch. So, keeping that in mind, I'd make your objections to the social committee in a more clearly worded fashion "I think this is inappropriate for these reasons..." and indicate what you want people to do about it "You know how the CEO had a hissyfit over Xmas, well I think this is part of the same problem, lets find a way to move forward with more credibility..."

It's entirely possible that the secretary, in her MLM zeal, really doesn't have everyone on board with this, they just don't have a better idea. If you can come in there with a better idea, you still may be able to save the day, and make your other social committee members who might be being browbeaten by this woman very happy. If the group is small, you may want to do your own talking to the group to see if she's really over-reporting others' buy in, if she is, you can use this against the event as well.
posted by jessamyn at 5:45 AM on June 14, 2005

What does this secretary think its doing, going around outside of meetings like that? For a multi-level marketing scheme???

I say talk to her privately (since she likes to do things that way) and tell her if she doesn't back down, you'll go to the Boss and explain the nitty-gritty (evidence of the bullshit).

If I was considering hiring a consulting firm, and found out they farted around with nonsense like this, I'd strike them from consideration. Who knows what kind of bullshit they'd try to pass off on my company? Any firm that goes for that kind of baloney doesn't think very clearly.

Is it possible the group is going along to save them the effort of coming up with a good idea? A fleshed-out alternative might be the diplomatic answer. I don't think this is a battle to neglect, but then, I always fight bullshit.
posted by Goofyy at 5:56 AM on June 14, 2005

hey, think long term over this one.

you've figured out that there's something fishy about the nikken stuff. i've had a read of the links that you've posted and i'd be inclined to agree over it.

so, if you allow others to follow a similar path - present them with the facts and allow them to decide. well, i'm willing to believe that they'll come to a similar conclusion. however you encourage these people is up to your discrestion.

by what you've written, especially about the knee-jerk e.mail and the excessive lunch, you are on shaky ground and it probably won't look too good if you pursue the matter aggressively.

good luck :)
posted by triv at 5:56 AM on June 14, 2005

A sales pitch at a work bbq/luncheon/whatever is just wrong, and your CEO ought to want to shut it down. I can't imagine going to something at work that is supposed to be fun (well, workfun) and having someone selling some MLM BS. And if I were an employee who just shows up to the event and didn't know anything about the situation, I think I'd be pissed at my employer for allowing salesmen to infiltate our social events - so yes, there MUST be someone in the company who objects to this, besides you, that is.
posted by jikel_morten at 6:14 AM on June 14, 2005

I'm quite ticked off because:
b) I am worried that an event like this will destroy the credibility of the social committee and result in us losing our budget. Our credibility is already on shaky ground as we blew $1200 on a lunch for ourselves last Christmas, and

Yeah and the worst part of it, at least to my mind is how poorly this will reflect on the committe as a whole - but especially on you, which is tragic being that you are the one who seems to see this with some clarity.

I'm hesitant to give advice, because I'm not good at the whole office politics thing (luckily I'm in a situation where I don't have to be), but it seems to me that someone needs to know your objections to the idea so that even if the event proceeds, someone will know your logical position on the matter. Basically I think someone higher up needs to know your position.
posted by jikel_morten at 6:27 AM on June 14, 2005

First of all, good for you, randomstriker. It's rare to see people stand up to scam artists and frauds, especially when it can be a pain in the ass or get you in trouble.

Second, my strategy would be to blow this up in the secretary's face. Approach her and say "you know what? I'm sorry I spoke to you that way. I was wrong to judge this opportunity without knowing the facts, and it looks like this is a great deal."

Speculate aloud how she could probably do very well if she stepped up her in-company marketing through email and even personal meetings. In short, make shirk her real responsibilities and become such an annoying, brainless MLM zombie that she gets fired and is out of your hair forever.

I feel pretty bad about that answer because the right thing to do is to help her get out of this situation, but that never, ever works. And if you just ignore her, she may start infecting other employees, and the next thing you know, you're responsible for your entire department's output because they're too busy browsing Maseratis online and sending dumb emails to each other about "marketing tools" or whatever the fuck it is they yammer about.

It's a sad situation. Good luck.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:43 AM on June 14, 2005

It's a large, multinational corporation? In that case, it most assuredly has an HR department. I would ask to meet with an HR representative and let them know your concerns:

1. Spending the company's hard earned cash on pitching snake oil and quackery to employees makes the company look shady.

2. Spending the company's hard earned cash on pitching snake oil and quackery that this secretary has a financial interest in is possibly a violation of the company's code of ethics. (Where I work, pulling a stunt like this would be cause for official warning; sure, bring in some Girl Scout cookies to sell, but leave the Herbalife at home.)

3. You are concerned that you and others may feel that failing to purchase the snake oil and quackery could result in being passed over for promotions, raises, and plum assignments. People might think their jobs are at risk if they don't buy in.

4. You recognize that by sponsoring the event, the company may be vulnerable (in liability terms) when the snake oil and quackery inevitably fails to cure someone.

5. The event being green-lighted outside of the committee process is a possible misuse of company funds in and of itself.

I'd bring the HR hammer down on this regardless of the seniority of the offender. You and other employees are at risk for being scammed, and the use of company bucks makes the company complicit. If you have an official channel for reporting potential ethics violations (my company does, but it's a regulated industry so we take this shit seriously), use that, too.
posted by majick at 7:03 AM on June 14, 2005

You need to discuss your concerns with the group, but beforehand, I think you need to whittle down your list of issues. Being vehemently opposed to the presentation because you are skeptical about the medical value of magnetic and infra-red products will greatly reduce your credibility. You can't impose your views on others just because you think it is quackery. Your desire to shield them from the information is almost like saying they are not intelligent enough to come to a logical conclusion about the products.

On the other hand, being vehemently opposed to the presentation because the company should not sponsor a MLM pitch is entirely reasonable. Is it possible to set up some guidelines regarding what the Nikken presentation can and can not include? For instance, the presentation CAN focus on the value of magnetic therapy, however, it CAN NOT focus on their products for more than, say, 5% of the presentation. Also, they CAN NOT talk about business opportunities, sales opportunities, personal betterment through Nikken involvement or whatever else goes along with MLM pitches. Perhaps they CAN distribute literature but they CAN NOT solicit or take orders on-site? Perhaps someone with a legal background can advise on the company's liability if Nikken sells potentially harmful products on the company's property?

OR, why not suggest an "alternative health" lunch rather than simply a Nikken presentation. Perhaps you can invite a chiropractor, an acupuncturist and whatever else exists in the realm of alternative therapy. This would greatly reduce the time allotted to Nikken and if you schedule them first, perhaps the following presenters might attempt to discredit magnetic therapy. Even if they don't, by providing a wide variety of alternative health philosophies, you will be providing a the employees with some really interesting information.

Finally, can you suggest a "brown bag lunch" series of informational seminars, including the Nikken one, where employees can just just drop in and bring their own lunch, reducing the committee's liability?

Unfortunately, this is all you can do. You can not make such a big fuss over this that it gets back to senior management, featuring you as someone who does not work well in teams, doesn't get along with others, can't communicate. Even preempting this by discussing your concerns with management will paint you in a negative light, possibly hurting your chances for upward movement within the company.
posted by necessitas at 7:48 AM on June 14, 2005

If a bunch of people on this committee want this company to come in and speak about their 'product', then who are you to stop them? It's a committee, afterall.
posted by xmutex at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2005

if you schedule them first, perhaps the following presenters might attempt to discredit magnetic therapy

Unfortunately, you'll find that these types stick together. No treatment is so ineffective (except for Western medicine, of course) that other quacks will condemn it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:03 AM on June 14, 2005

You can't impose your views on others just because you think it is quackery.

Well, to be fair, he doesn't just think it's quackery, and it's not merely a "view."
posted by kindall at 9:27 AM on June 14, 2005

Insist that Sterling Management Consultants be invited to the luncheon. They're a $cientology front. All hell should rightly break loose after that.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2005

"If a bunch of people on this committee want this company to come in and speak about their 'product', then who are you to stop them? It's a committee, afterall."

If that's the case, and if, after your best efforts, these people really can't see the problem with a company-sponsored MLM pitch, then it's a committee you might want nothing to do with. I'd leave before I got associated with any more boneheaded decisions.

I'm confident you're not the only one in your company who is vehemently opposed to quackery and network marketing techniques. If this luncheon happens, there will be other people upset about it. If I found myself at such an offensive event I'd go straight to HR and object - even if all of HR was sitting at the luncheon at the time.
posted by Tubes at 10:25 AM on June 14, 2005

If the MLM is coming to promote something, charge them a fee. They stand something to gain and should be very willing to contribute to the costs of the party. Save your money for the next private gig.
posted by upline at 9:29 PM on March 12, 2006

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