Cult-y Organizations and Work?
January 23, 2020 5:27 PM   Subscribe

I overheard someone from another team giving a one of my coworkers a hard sell about attending a Landmark Forum event. How sketchy is this?

After the other person left I pointed out to my coworker that they might want to look into the organization and its’ rep independently, but is this kind of hard-sell recruiting at work “Let our manager know” sketchy? Or would that be an over-reaction?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If there is a power differential and the Landmark seller is implying that participation would be a good "career move" for the sellee, that is a company-relevant systemic issue that should be brought up with a manager or HR.

If not, I'd just mind your own business. You did the right thing by suggesting that the coworker do the research.
posted by nkknkk at 5:56 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]

It may be sketchy. It may be simple uninformed douchebaggery. It’s certainly not unheard of. I knew someone who worked at LuLuLemon corporate and this kind of crap happened all the time. And I’ve heard it happen elsewhere. I think if it continues, there’s a hard press or suggestions that it’s “required”, then yes or might approach the level of sketch to warrant concern and/or a talk with HR.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 5:56 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

If it makes other people uncomfortable at work, it should stop.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:57 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

I know nothing about Landmark Forum, but the first hit I got on Google was super creepy - and written 16 years ago. It seems like it would akin to a coworker recruiting for Scientology. Or any of those home businesses like Amway, or hell, Lularoe. If your company has a policy of non-solicitation on the job, though, you could use that as a way to tell your manager without the actual content being the issue. It depends on your relationship with your manager, and their relationship with your coworker, how much you want to go into the cult aspect. It could come across as concern or being nosy, depending.
posted by cabingirl at 5:57 PM on January 23

I think it's fine to have one conversation with a co-worker about Landmark. More than that and it would be OK to give a strong, "Hey bud, cut it out. It's not cool to pressure people at work about this."

Based on what I know from friends who have gone through it, yes there is a "pyramid scheme" aspect to Landmark's "personal development" program -- each person who goes through it is heavily pressured to recruit more people, and they have lots of structures in place to encourage that recruitment. (There is no financial incentive for the person who recruits their friends, as far as I know, just lots of pressure to do it, as well as praise and encouragement and social validation when they do so successfully.)

The friends I know who went through it are all very successful and relatively well-adjusted people, as far as I can tell, and found the experience powerful and valuable. I think it's sort of like [large-]group therapy. I don't like the pressured recruitment aspect, but there are worse ways to spend a couple hundred bucks and a weekend.
posted by amaire at 6:23 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]

Separate from the workplace issues, if you want to offer your coworker some advice, there's this: Landmarkers value and understand direct language. If coworker says, to the invite, "Um, maybe, let me think about it" or the like, the Landmarker will keep trying to reel them in. If the coworker says, "No thanks, I'm not interested," the Landmarker will stop. (Source: my own experiences with Landmarkers.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:27 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]

Landmark (and people pitching it) has always left me feeling pretty meh, but it's not a cult. it does seem to help people with some things. in other ways i think it can hinder then. and i think of youre in an abusive situation, perhaps it could lead you down a wrong path inadvertantly (it's not the situation, it's your "story"). that said, so could the wrong therapist so... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

i have never been willing to shell out to have the forum experience first hand, so.. take all that with a giant grain of salt : all this is just based on hearing about it from folks who've gone, attenfing a sales pitch one of them took me to, and reading about it.

also biased bc it depresses me a bit: I want a world were the kind of mutual support the landmark forum seems to offer its participants is available under the umbrella of a less for-profit setup.

still, I'm not a landmarker, so.. what do i know ?
posted by elgee at 6:41 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

It's a mega mega cult and it ruins lives and relationships. It's basically paying someone to "break you down" via public humiliation then they "build you up" by getting you to get more rubes to get shouted at. The hard sell is part of the brainwashing. Tell HR and your manager because this is very not good stuff.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:11 PM on January 23 [29 favorites]

I had positive experiences with the Landmark Forum in the 1990s. I don't know anyone who was broken down or humiliated during the course of their programs. That may have been more common during precursor programs like EST in the 1970s, as famously parodied by Burt Reynolds in Semi-Tough. In contrast, I do know several people who had significant positive life changes that grew out of doing the Forum.

That said, the high pressure selling that they ask participants to do is a drag and has no business in the workplace if it makes anyone uncomfortable at all.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:23 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Extremely inappropriate. I have lost friends because they got sucked into cultish workplaces, Landmark was the first "big red flag," and I miss them.
posted by thirdletter at 7:24 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

We have an anti-solicitation policy at my company and this would violate it.
posted by kapers at 7:39 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]

posted by odinsdream at 8:31 PM on January 23 [11 favorites]

Completely inappropriate in the workplace. We had to root it out of a workplace environment in the 2000s where it had infected the training department. I tend to think it is a cult based on my experiences back then, but whether or not you believe that it has no place in the office. (Let the zealot sell it business models skeeve me out.)
posted by frumiousb at 9:49 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]

Even if were seemingly benign, it's not appropriate to use the workplace as a captive audience to sell something.

Sure, let people know you're selling fundraising chocolates for your kid's sports team / starting a running club / raising money for an orphanage. Make a brief mention. But you can't stand there giving them the hard sell. Particularly if they are stuck at their desk and can't really run away.
posted by kitten magic at 9:59 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]

The person who stood up for me at my wedding cut me out of her life and the beginning of the disintegration of our relationship was caused by Landmark and this person's sudden and unquestioning (CULT-Y) devotion to the program.

If you're someone who cares more about money than relationships, the organization took many (MANY) thousands of dollars from this person, essentially bankrupting them.

As a point of data, they were raised by a mother who used glass stirring rods to "heal" the water they drank.

I can only hope that this person is now "well-adjusted and successful".

posted by RobinofFrocksley at 5:12 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

My understanding is that it's pretty sketchy, and there is considerable variation in people's experiences depending on both their level of vulnerability and the particular groups they happen to encounter. I've heard comments ranging from "I overpaid for a weird kind of group therapy, but got a few insights" to "these people ruined my life and my marriage and now they won't stop harassing me."

As for what you should do about it at work, I think you've done the right thing off the bat by suggesting to your co-worker to do the research. I'd leave it at that unless it comes up again. If it does, I'd mention it to your manager in a "hey, this is going on and it could make some people uncomfortable" kind of way. If I were the manager in that situation, I'd want to know so I could have a quiet word with the "salesperson" and either remind the group of our no-solicitation policy or create such a policy.
posted by rpfields at 6:05 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

/r/cults has a bunch of good results when you search 'landmark'.
posted by noloveforned at 6:51 AM on January 24

Here is a Metafilter post about Landmark Forum from 2015. Link is still active.
posted by parmanparman at 7:09 AM on January 24

Landmark has come up many times on MetaFilter. You are right to call it out as solicitation. Assuming your company has not gone all in for this and this is just one employee talking about how it 'changed their life' etc, I would make a dated note about it with all the details, file it somewhere you can find it again, and leave it at that. If the solicitation continued or pressure increased, then I'd raise it to the manager/HR as an issue and share the previous record you had made at that time.
posted by Miko at 8:12 AM on January 24

I’ve done Landmark and other “self actualization” seminars, largely at the behest of a pushy relative. Luckily I was able to resist the post-Forum hard sell to become an unpaid recruiter. Yuck - that has no place in a workplace AT ALL.
posted by 41swans at 5:57 AM on January 25

« Older How can I grow to like someone I don't?   |   This commute is killing me. Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments