The Business of Empathy: How Pharmacists Can Improve Performance By Improving The Human Connection

Covid-19 highlighted the value pharmacists provide in disease management and prevention, but it hasn’t been an easy road. Patients relied on their pharmacies for more services and support than before; however, the increased demand has stretched the capacity of many pharmacies. When patients don’t receive the support they need, medication adherence suffers, which directly impacts pharmacy performance. It’s a difficult cycle to break during a critical time for pharmacy business.

Pharmacies can build on the positive momentum gained during the pandemic to improve patient engagement and, relatedly, medication adherence. A familiar face close to home can help ease patients’ anxiety as they cope with a new diagnosis. Empathic support can also make a positive impact on medication adherence—a key metric for patients’ health and for pharmacy business success. But pharmacies will need an empathetic helping hand to provide this support.

Medication adherence is one of the key indicators of pharmacy performance. Unfortunately, pharmacies have a high barrier to overcome because about half of patients do not take their medications as prescribed. This lack of adherence leads to about $500 billion in avoidable healthcare costs and contributes to up to 25% of hospitalizations each year.

Nonadherence is infrequently caused by simple forgetfulness. Patients stop or never start taking a medication for many reasons, including:

  • They can’t afford it.
  • They don’t understand the directions.
  • They don’t see the need for the medication.
  • They’re afraid of the side effects.
  • They are worried, scared, anxious, confused.

Regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same: potentially compromised patient health and lost pharmacy revenue.

Who owns the problem of adherence?

Everyone owns the problem of adherence. Understanding that adherence is a complex problem, all healthcare providers must come together to solve the problem. Tackling adherence requires a fundamental understanding of the human factors behind the problem and the solution.

Pharmacist-provided care requires empathy and genuine human connection. Practicing empathy leads to innumerable benefits for patients, including better medication adherence, fewer hospital admissions, and lower stress—the latter of which ties to numerous health improvements.

Improving patient engagement is key to improving medication adherence, and thus improving pharmacy performance and profitability. Engagement beings with prescribers who start the dialogue around the benefits and risks of a prescribed medication, the possible side effects, and the cost.

Pharmacists must continue that conversation to help ensure that patients fill prescriptions and take medications as prescribed. Given staffing shortages, it’s not an easy ask. A lower-cost, empathic support program would help fill the gap.

Another important reason to focus on patient engagement: it ties to payment for pharmacy services. The Pharmacy Quality Alliance advocates for pharmacist-provided care as part of healthcare’s shift to value-based payment models. Operating models based on financially sustainable, pharmacist-provided care lead to improved medication adherence, PQA reports.

To improve business performance, pharmacies must also focus on patient satisfaction—an important factor in retaining existing customers and acquiring new ones. Pharmacies can improve both engagement and satisfaction with a subtle shift in philosophy, from patient-centric to empathetic care.

What is empathy in pharmacy? 

Empathy is the ability or capacity to understand or feel the patient’s situation, perspectives, and feelings. In other words, it’s the capacity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s a human connection that instills confidence and builds trust between two individuals.

Empathic care improves patient satisfaction. Here’s an example: a pharmacy customer is fuming because her prescription is delayed. The pharmacy tech understands the customer isn’t angry at her. She’s scared because she doesn’t know what will happen if she misses a dose of her medication. Rather than shut down emotionally and finish the transaction as quickly as possible, the pharmacy tech explains the reason for the delay. She relays the patient’s concerns to the pharmacist, who provides a missed medication protocol. The pharmacy tech also puts the prescription on an auto-refill plan to prevent future delays.

By practicing empathic care, pharmacies achieve better rapport with their patients, engender trust, and establish loyal customers. Loyalty manifests in a number of ways – from glowing reviews, to customer retention, new customer acquisition, higher quality ratings, and increased payment for services – all of which help booth the pharmacy’s business.

How to provide a more human experience through technology

While most pharmacies strive to provide attentive, empathic customer service, they’re also stretched thin. A recent National Pharmacy Technician Association survey found almost all (91.4%) pharmacy techs experienced burnout caused by unmanageable workloads. Another survey found most (80%) pharmacies have trouble finding pharmacists.

Technology that’s easy to implement and nonintrusive to workflow can lighten some of the load for busy pharmacies. Low-code process automation software can take on mundane repetitive tasks, including measuring medication, filling orders, inventory management, and notifying patients that their prescriptions are ready for pickup. Automating these tasks frees up staff to focus on higher-value activities, such as genuine patient communication.

Some pharmacists are using digital tools to provide supportive services to Medicare providers. Pharmacists can conduct virtual consultations to discuss new prescriptions, provide medication therapy and chronic care management, and other services “incident to” healthcare providers.

Research, however, shows that patients want to be seen, heard, and met where they are emotionally. Not “messaged” or “app’d” repeatedly, but actually heard. The very notion of health has evolved in the last few years, with a vernacular shift from “patient” to “person” as one example.

Technology can support a more meaningful human connection. Based on the data, would a patient need a follow-up call the day after she picks up her prescription? Would they appreciate a check-in call if they haven’t picked up a prescription after a few days? This type of simple check-in may open the door to deeper conversations about cost, administration, or side effects.  It may also provide the space for a patient to express their worries, concerns, or confusions about their treatment. Or it may simply trigger a patient’s memory.

Studies have shown that empathic, positive communication is associated with improved patient satisfaction and quality of life compared to usual care. An Accenture survey of nearly 1,800 patients found that the most important factor in creating a positive experience was a provider “who explains the patient’s condition and treatment clearly,” (55%) followed closely by “a provider who listens, understands patient’s needs, and provides emotional support” (52%).

Pharmacies can be instrumental in instilling positive behavior changes in the patients they serve.  Behavior is the result of our motivation, ability, and prompt.  When pharmacies engage on a human level with patient support programs, patients become more fully engaged in their treatment, leading to potentially significant health benefits. The human-to-human connection relieves patients from isolation,  gives them confidence in their recommended treatment, and ensures that humans remain first in the digital/AI age.

Empathy is Good Business

Developing meaningful relationships with patients creates an emotional bond that helps patients make lasting change—including taking their medications as prescribed. Empathy activates and moves patients from emotion to action. When that action includes more prescriptions filled and refills as directed by physicians, that’s good empathy-derived business.

Michael Oleksiw

By: Michael Oleksiw

Michael is a leader in technology development and product data on a global scale for over 20 years solving specific business and societal problems through innovation.

Source: The business of empathy: How pharmacists can improve performance by improving the human connection – MedCity News

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Microcoaching: The Next Generation Of Personal Development

As the modern workplace evolves, its associated practices must too. An office used to mean a fixed location, now it’s anywhere with an internet connection or something to write with. A multi-million dollar business used to require heaps of staff and complicated infrastructure, now it could be a teenager with a Shopify site. Meetings used to always be face-to-face. Emails used to be faxes. Instant payments used to be cheques. You get the idea.

Ambitious entrepreneurs are maximising their time; fitting in more of what matters and doing less of what doesn’t. More is automated, delegated and eliminated than ever before. It makes sense that coaching is up for discussion.

What is microcoaching?

Microcoaching is an alternative to traditional coaching, consisting of smaller and more frequent questions, guidance and assistance. Rather than scheduling hour-long calls or face-to-face meetings, microcoaching might involve a five-minute chat every few days, and the exchange of voice notes or text-based questions and prompts between coach and client. The principle is that frequent doses of guidance might help keep someone on track better than an in-depth discussion every two weeks, for example.

Microcoaching is used by coaches looking to adapt their practices to a changing workplace, as well as the evolving demands of a modern entrepreneur. It’s used within larger organizations, to enable senior team members to offer support to junior ones, or to enable peer-to-peer development. It might be used within entrepreneur networks or between friendship groups. Whenever you’re spending time with someone who is helping you find solutions or holding you accountable, you might be on the receiving end of microcoaching.

Formal, structured coaching has its place, but for some clients of coaches it’s surplus to requirements and shorter, more frequent bursts of motivation, inspiration and nudging may prove more beneficial.

What makes microcoaching so effective?

Microcoaching, by its very nature, enables more frequent catch ups and a real-time method of keeping in touch. This means challenges can be assessed and dissected and a plan of action made without waiting for the next scheduled session, which may be weeks or even months in the future. This is particularly useful if the microcoaching recipient feels they may have made a mistake, could have handled a situation better, or they have a big decision they’d like to discuss.

The faster implementation of microcoaching can make the recipient more effective in their work. Whether self-employed or an employee, they are less likely to waste time pursuing practices that are ineffective or go too far down a rabbit hole before they’re caught. Feedback loops are far shorter meaning actions can be redirected accordingly. Furthermore, the microcoaching receiver can access frequent doses of motivation, keeping their levels topped up rather than allowing for boom and bust.

One of the key benefits of microcoaching is its flexible nature, especially when communication is delivered asynchronously. This means the coach and their client can exchange thoughts and questions in their own time, whenever is convenient. This removes the need to find time in two busy schedules and block out an afternoon for a call and review period. Long coaching calls can be draining for both parties and they’re not always effective. Furthermore, long coaching calls might require an initial phase of catching up, which microcoaching negates the need for.

How can entrepreneurs benefit from microcoaching?

Ambitious entrepreneurs are hungry for knowledge, including feedback and pointers of how they can improve. They can open themselves up for microcoaching by letting key individuals around them know that regular feedback is welcome.

Within a formal coaching relationship, where an entrepreneur has commissioned a coach, they might adapt the schedule so they communicate in smaller bursts and incorporate ad hoc phone calls, shorter catch ups or voice notes, saving the longer sessions for when deep dives are necessary or when there’s something significant to discuss. This adaptation may be welcomed by their coach and make the arrangement more effective.

Outside of a formal coaching relationship, for example in mastermind groups or between friendship groups consisting of entrepreneurs, each member can administer and receive microcoaching according to the boundaries of those involved. If a friend is explaining a business problem, for example, I might ask them if I can offer feedback, ask some questions, or suggest a new way to frame the problem. In turn, they may hear of a business challenge I’m facing and ask if it’s okay that they probe, in order to help me reach a solution.

When microcoaching is met with an open demeanour and willingness to learn, it can be effective. When it’s unsolicited, defensiveness may ensue, and no solutions reached, hence why it’s crucial to check before offering input.

Entrepreneurs who question every aspect of their career and work will inevitably find better ways of conducting business. Modern businesses have reimagined what’s possible; applying the same to personal development could unlock the progress ambitious business owners are seeking.

Author of Ten Year Career: Reimagine business, design your life, fast track to freedom. I founded a digital agency in 2011 that was acquired in 2021

Source: Microcoaching: The Next Generation Of Personal Development

Critics by C. Lee Smith

I define microcoaching as short, frequent bursts of sales coaching, personalized to the individual’s specific needs, that fill the developmental and motivational gaps from existing 1‑on‑1 coaching sessions. The bite-sized guidance is ideal for reps who are overwhelmed or easily distracted. The ability to automate sales microcoaching through AI is ideal for sales managers who are too busy for more 1‑on‑1 coaching and believe their reps need frequent reinforcement on key sales principles and practices.

The differences between microcoaching and traditional sales coaching comes down to how and when it happens and to what’s covered in the sessions. A traditional sales coaching session can take place in a one-on-one meeting. It can also happen during a ride-along. As you and your rep approach an account’s office for an in-person meeting, coaching will include a strategic discussion. These sessions usually take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

They are often focused on deal coaching, or reviewing the rep’s pipeline, at the expense of skills building and motivation, according to research from the Sales Management Association. Microcoaching, on the other hand, involves the delivery of one key piece of information. These sessions last between two and six minutes. This is the sweet spot of attention for the typical learner, but for easily-distracted salespeople, they should be closer to the two-minute mark. When a rep receives a microcoaching feed in an email or chat message, they can quickly review a basic principle such as the need to research the prospect before reaching out.

After reading the statement, reviewing a blog post or short video, they can build their knowledgebase by reflecting on and responding to two questions that come with the feed. And automated sales microcoaching works well when it relies on AI driven by the results of the rep’s sales assessment. In these cases, a feed will summarize a detail about the rep’s work habits or process as it relates to sales or interacting with others. The rep then reflects on and gives brief answers about how they can adapt their practices to improve sales outcomes.

Microcoaching is best suited for tactics, but can be very effective for developing skills and their mindset. These topics are often neglected in standard one-on-one meetings. Through four years of testing and development at SalesFuel, we created the first sales microcoaching platform, SalesFuel CoachFeed. It contains four essential elements for upskilling your sales reps. 

Needs analysis – Every successful sales professional knows that their sales outcome will only be as good as the needs analysis they conduct on their prospect. Microcoaching emphasizes how to conduct effective needs analysis.

Sales coaching – Microcoaching doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The material should supplement the topics managers and reps cover in their regular one-on-one sessions.

Adaptive coaching – Every sales rep is at a different point in their professional development. They come to their positions with unique strengths and weaknesses. Microcoaching platforms can target each rep’s unique needs by tapping assessment results. They then merge the results with knowledgebase information into effective suggestions and thought-provoking questions.

Microcoaching – Regular topical feeds address a rep’s sales skills needs and their mindset based on assessment results. Additional feeds address account-based coaching. First, reps identify the accounts they want to land or grow. Then, they receive feeds containing intelligence about those accounts and advice on how to proceed.

You know how to coach your reps. And if you had more time, you could turn some of your average sellers into superstars. When you turn to microcoaching, you don’t need to find more hours in the day. Both you and your reps will benefit from using microcoaching to supplement the coaching you’re already providing.
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The Real Reasons Big Tech Hates Unions

Tech companies don’t like unions. Here’s why — and here’s what happens when they call in the union busters. Around this time last year, Mapbox’s Slack workplace descended into 24/7 chaos, the virtual equivalent of an office-wide shouting match. It was a few weeks before workers were to vote on whether to join a union, and Mapbox leaders and workers on the “anti-committee” were posting about their opposition to the union at all hours of the day and night.

At anti-union all-staff meetings and on Slack, leaders accused union organizers of xenophobia because they opposed offshoring jobs to other countries. Staff members on the “anti-committee” blamed union organizers for creating division, chaos and conflict, and then piled on to endless Slack threads that bubbled with bickering posts and sometimes snarky laughing emojis when someone posted a pro-union message. “They would say, ‘How can you be doing something like this? You’re putting our livelihoods in danger,’” said Josh Erb, a Mapbox software engineer who helped organize for the union and who left the company in January 2022.

“Because of Slack being this virtual workspace that you can’t ever actually get out of, like 24 hours a day the anti-committee … at 3 in the morning would post,” Wes McEnany, one of the former union organizers with the Communication Workers of America, told Protocol. Mapbox did not respond to Protocol’s requests for comment.

Mapbox’s union opposition was industry standard. A wave of unionization has swept white- and blue-collar tech workplaces over the last two years: In addition to the attempt at Mapbox, workers have unionized at Amazon and Activision Blizzard and are in the midst of union organizing at Apple retail stores, to name just a few. The leaders of those companies are among the litany who have made it clear they want unions out.

So they have done what every anti-union company in the United States has done since the first organized labor movement more than 100 years ago — hired what companies call “union avoidance experts” and what unions call “union busters.”

And it works. The playbook mastered by consultants and attorneys at major law firms and strategy groups is effective at forcing a union vote to fail or collapse. What companies rarely consider are the long-term consequences. “It was like watching this beautiful thing wither up and die,” Erb said of the fallout at Mapbox, where workers voted down the union. “Before, it was probably one of the best company cultures I’d worked at.”

The often chaotic and threatening atmosphere created in the lead-up to a unionization vote alters company culture. Especially in closely contested elections, trust erodes between workers and leadership. Companies that pride themselves on openness and communication find themselves unable to re-create the same atmosphere. Top talent, disturbed by the change in environment, often flees or is poached. Recruiting becomes more difficult because of the reputational damage caused by the fight.

To look at what company culture at this company had been a year ago versus what it is now, the vibrancy has just been sucked out of it. Mapbox epitomizes those consequences. The company lost nearly 300 employees in 2021, an increase of more than 100 people compared to the previous year, according to data from Mapbox organizers and from LinkedIn statuses reviewed by Protocol.

“To look at what company culture at this company had been a year ago versus what it is now, the vibrancy has just been sucked out of it,” one current Mapbox employee told Protocol. The alternatives could be less of a nightmare than the unionization one keeping tech leaders up at night. Microsoft President Brad Smith staked his claim last week as the one major tech leader who seems less afraid of this alternative future when he announced that Microsoft wouldn’t oppose union organizing among its ranks.

The company had an unusual opportunity to prepare its position on unions because Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard, where 22 quality assurance testers at the company’s Call of Duty studio just formally unionized. Microsoft will have no choice but to deal with CWA, the union that represents those workers — and has even committed to a legally binding agreement to avoid the vicious, drawn-out fights that have embroiled places like Mapbox.

“If the employer treats employees in a good way, in my opinion a union’s not necessary,” Alfred Gray, an employment attorney who represents companies challenging unionization, said. “But once a union is in place, my attitude has been all along, I’ve gotta work with you, we might as well have an amicable relationship because we are going to get more done working together.”

At its heart, tech sector unionization has exposed messy political rifts at work. Whether someone favors unions or opposes them, their feelings tend to be rooted in political and ideological beliefs. Union organizers see union-busters as inherently malicious and opposed to worker rights; company leaders see unions as interfering pests with an anti-capitalist agenda. Enforcement of the laws that govern unionization changes depends on the political party in power in the White House, meaning that most legal fights create more mess, not recourse.

While tech companies proudly advertise progressive values on climate change, racial justice and diversity at work, unions are where most draw the line. (Aside from Microsoft’s recent commitment, the few exceptions come from small tech startups that build tech tools for progressive causes, like Mobilize.)

Mapbox, for example, touts that its first maps supported international development in partnership with the United Nations, USAID and Doctors without Borders. It cites “people first” values and advertises “an amazing community of friendly, diverse, and talented people who work together to achieve big goals.” One current Mapbox employee told Protocol that they joined the company in part because of its reputation for a caring and progressive culture. Mapbox’s own leadership tried to play on this progressive ideal, using the “xenophobic” label to try to make the pro-union crowd appear less progressive than the company.

“These tech companies which sort of might be liberal on some issues, when it comes to unions or regulation, they are very anti,” said Wilma Liebman, who was chair of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union laws, under the Obama administration.

“It poisons the well oftentimes,” said Ileen DeVault, a professor of labor history at Cornell University. “It makes workers not trust each other as much anymore. It tightens all sorts of conversations and cultures of companies. And I think that may be especially important in some of these tech companies, where, for the programming folks anyway, the culture was always relaxed.”

Why fight?

Companies articulate three primary reasons for fighting unionization: They don’t want another group mediating their conversations and relationships with their employees, especially a group without industry knowledge; they usually lose money because they are forced to increase pay and benefits; and they lose control over their ability to hire, fire and lay off whenever they choose.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy made some of these arguments in a June 8 talk, saying it’s easier and faster for teams to make change and for managers to incorporate feedback without a union. “We happen to think they’re better off without a union,” he said.

Liebman suspects that’s a view shared widely by tech company leaders, who might view unions as fusty relics. “My sense is that they view traditional collective bargaining relationships as probably being 20th century and out of sync with their business model, and they probably think that they can’t deal with a third party. ‘We have to make decisions fast, we can’t go through long negotiation processes,’” Liebman said.

Private sector unionization in the U.S. hit an all-time high in the 1950s, when more than one-third of workers at private companies were in unions. The majority of these unions were industry-specific; autoworkers were represented by the auto union, truckers by the trucker union. Every American citizen was either in a union or knew people in a union.

Today, private sector union membership hovers somewhere between 5% and 6% according to Department of Labor data, and most private sector employees don’t work in the same assembly-line style jobs that unions traditionally represented in the 20th century. “The average American on the street doesn’t know diddly-squat about how a union functions or what it can do and what it can’t do for workers,” DeVault said.

Union avoidance consultants and attorneys cite this shift as a key reason for opposing unionization. Gray believes that unlike historical private sector unions, unions today often organize workplaces in disparate industries and have little knowledge of how those industries actually function. When the teamsters won an election at a group home for people with disabilities, Gray said, citing an example, “it was problematic right from the get-go even from collective bargaining, because they didn’t understand the industry.”

Among other problems, Gray said the teamsters called for worker schedules to change to traditional daytime hours, even though the home only had residents in need of care during evening hours. “Now it’s just a numbers thing. They want as many people as possible,” he said of unions. There’s a fourth and less tangible ideological reason for union opposition: Depending on their politics, some people are inherently opposed to the idea of a union and question the legitimacy of the laws that enshrine their rights in the U.S.

“It’s almost like it’s an accepted part of corporate management culture, that this is what you do, this is how you are a good person in your role: You hear the word ‘union’ and you bring in the union-busters,” said Sara Steffens, the secretary-treasurer for the CWA. The CWA has spearheaded the effort to organize white-collar tech sector workers into unions over the last two years through a campaign called CODE-CWA, which has successfully unionized software engineers at Mobilize, Vodeo Games, Glitch, Raven Software and the New York Times tech department, among others.

Liebman agrees. “For some, I think it’s truly ideological; they don’t accept the legitimacy of labor unions or the legitimacy of this law,” she said. Still, about 68% of Americans approved of labor unions in a 2021 Gallup poll, a high not seen since the 1960s and a 20% increase from 2009’s all-time low.

The basic union avoidance playbook

When two-thirds of Mapbox workers announced their intention to unionize in spring 2021, the company quickly launched its opposition campaign, hiring labor consulting firm Lev Labor, LLC. (Lev Labor also consulted for Amazon in its anti-union efforts in the lead-up to the union votes in Staten Island warehouses).

The campaign went as most do: Mapbox management hosted all-hands meetings (known colloquially as “captive audience meetings”) where it suggested union talk was responsible for a lost $150 million investment in the company and could also discourage future investment. Workers were pulled into one-on-one meetings with managers to discuss the union movement. Our main channel just turned into a slag-fest between pro-and anti-union folks.

“One of the things I’d always admired about Mapbox from the outside was just the seemingly hard-to-quantify complete lack of assholes. It was a really good crew of people, everybody super supportive, very open with their own struggles,” one Mapbox employee told Protocol. “Then there was a palpable shift in the tone of any sort of public communications. Just like the general atmosphere, a huge palpable shift. Our main channel just turned into a slag-fest between pro-and anti-union folks.”

“A big part of the leadership strategy in [the] campaign was to pit the U.S.-based workers against the workers abroad who wouldn’t be covered by the collective bargaining group we were pushing for,” Erb said. Company leadership accused the union of making it harder to support the global workforce. “It definitely colored every interaction I had with one of my counterparts who worked in a different country,” he added.

Lev Labor wrote in its mandated disclosure forms that “the engagement was merely to educate, rather than to persuade” and that the roughly $43,000 Mapbox paid it was “just payment for providing education and information to employees.”

By August, the two-thirds union support had vanished, and the union lost its election 123-81. In the months after the defeat, at least three union leaders were fired, let go or agreed to leave, according to the Mapbox Workers Union and posts shared by former union organizers on Twitter.

That mirrors the basic union avoidance playbook, which is governed by one overarching law. “There’s a whole rule of thumb — TIPS,” Gray said. (TIPS means you can’t threaten, interrogate, promise or surveil). “You can’t threaten employees, you can’t influence them, you can’t persuade them, you can’t offer them salary information, you can’t make promises to employees.”

And so union-avoidance consultants have adopted a few central strategies based on what past labor rulings show they can do. Sometimes they make the union leaders managers, because managers can’t join a union and that can effectively suffocate the movement. Amazon, Apple, Mapbox and other tech companies have all used captive-audience meetings, where workers are required to listen to company leaders — without union organizers present — explain why they don’t want a union. When workers don’t appear easily dissuaded, companies deliberately create so much chaos that workers vote against the union just to end the misery.

While it’s a common strategy, Gray advises employers to pursue another popular route: find ways to give employees what they want, but in a way that isn’t technically persuading or influencing, in hopes they drop the union effort. Steffens sees this when the CWA tries to unionize a workplace. Workers will get raises, or the mileage reimbursement will suddenly increase.

The consequences

But in Steffens’ experience, those changes vanish when the union fight ends and the consultants disappear. “The way they see it is if they cause that election to be not held, or scare enough people into voting no, they’ve done their job,” Steffens said. At Mapbox, current employees described a scorched-earth reality after the union lost the election in August. While those that remain are still happy with their individual teams and work, those that spoke with Protocol described trying to avoid thinking about the broader company culture and their relationships with senior management.

Waves of workers have also left the company over the last year, including some of the company’s longest-tenured talent. “It’s the absolute carnage of U.S.-based employees, folks who would have been in the bargaining unit leaving or being forced out,” one employee said. “The shock wave of losing so many creative and contributing employees, there’s certainly a possibility that they don’t immediately emerge from that,” the same employee said.

Erb stayed at Mapbox until January, five months after the failed union vote. “It became kind of like a ghost town in a sense where people were leaving faster than they could hire for roles,” he said. When he’d started working at Mapbox nearly four years earlier, one of Erb’s favorite parts of the job was the ease with which engineers could disagree with their managers when problem-solving. He left the company in part because he felt like that freedom disappeared after the vote. “I had no ability, even in my professional capacity, to be critical of management’s plans for something. The general vibe I got by the end of it is, that was basically just everyone’s experience.”

Source: https://www.protocol.com/

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Pinterest Asks Court To Dismiss Influencer’s Claim That She’s An Uncredited Cofounder

Pinterest wants a lawsuit brought by a woman claiming to be an uncredited cofounder dismissed, saying she played no role in the company’s start.

Christine Martinez, who has long operated as a popular influencer on Pinterest, originally filed against Pinterest in September, alleging breach of implied contract, idea theft, unjust enrichment and unfair business practices. Martinez maintains she helped the company’s acknowledged founders Ben Silbermann and Paul Sciarra get Pinterest going in 2009 when the two were shifting focus from a shopping app to what became the social media company.

Pinterest went public in 2019, and its stock has proposed during the pandemic as more users browsed its app while at home. Silbermann remains the company’s CEO. Sciarra left soon after the company began. Both still hold lucrative stakes in the company worth more than $1 billion.

In a new legal filing in California Superior Court, Pinterest further presses for dismissal by arguing that Martinez waited too long to bring this up, her claims falling outside the statutes of limitation. Martinez hasn’t specified exactly how much she thinks she’s entitled to, though a stake in Pinterest similar to Silbermann’s and Sciarra’s would be worth over a billion dollars.

It’s unclear why Martinez waited more than a decade to press her claims, while former and current employees at Pinterest have said they have little to no recollection of her. She is not described in any previous news coverage of the company as a cofounder, and in her 2012 book how to succeed on Pinterest, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pinterest Marketing, she describes herself only as an “early adopter.”

The battle between Martinez and Pinterest is made complicated by several things. While she may or may not have been a cofounder, what’s clear is that she and Silbermann were once friends, reportedly close enough to appear in Silbermann’s wedding party. Further, Pinterest was hit last year by complaints from several employees that it mistreated female staff and people of color.

Last month, it pledged to spend $50 million on diversity initiatives within the company, ending litigation brought by Pinterest shareholders. In 2020, it agreed to pay $22.5 million to former Chief Operating Officer Françoise Brougher, who had brought a case alleging racial and gender discrimination.

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I’m a senior editor at Forbes, where I cover social media, creators and internet culture. In the past, I’ve edited across Forbes magazine and Forbes.com.

Source: Pinterest Asks Court To Dismiss Influencer’s Claim That She’s An Uncredited Cofounder

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Critics:

Pinterest has settled a lawsuit brought against it by shareholders who claimed that the company’s workplace discrimination against women and racial minorities hurt its reputation, according to NBC News. The company reportedly agreed to spend $50 million on improving its diversity and equity, and will let former employees talk about racial or gender discrimination they experienced, even if they were bound by a non-disclosure agreement. Other financial details of the settlement weren’t disclosed.

The lawsuit was filed against the company’s executives in November 2020, with shareholder claiming that the company was acting irresponsibly by doing nothing to address “widespread claims of race and gender discrimination.” The complaint also accused the company’s CEO of “surrounding himself with yes-men and marginalizing women who dared to challenge Pinterest’s White, male leadership clique.”

That year, multiple women reported that Pinterest paid them less than male employees, and some reported racial discrimination and retaliation for speaking out. The Verge also reported on discrimination within the company’s finance team. Separately, the company paid out $20 million to its former COO Françoise Brougher after she alleged that the company paid her less than male colleagues, didn’t invite her to important meetings, and fired her after she brought up the issues.

MLMs Could Be In FTC Trouble With a Business Opportunity Rule Change

Say I’ve got a business selling bananas, and I want you to sell bananas, too. Presumably, you’d want to know some details about this banana business opportunity, such as whether I’ve ever been sued for lying about my business, whether the amount of money I say you would earn is accurate, and what happens if, after selling for a while, you want to quit. Perhaps you’d want to take a week to think about it before signing on.

For most business opportunities in the United States, that’s the legal standard I would have to follow to get you on board. It doesn’t apply to multilevel marketing companies (MLMs), though. They’re exempt — at least for now.

A decade ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put in place the “business opportunity rule,” which basically describes a set of requirements for people trying to get others involved in a business opportunity, such as a work-from-home job (some of which are scams). The rule says that people offering such opportunities have to provide support for any income claims — if I tell you that you can make $1 million a year in my banana business, I have to prove it.

They must also disclose whether they’ve been involved in certain legal actions (such as any involving fraud), and list them out if they have; detail their refund and cancellation policy (if they have one); and provide a list of at least 10 other people who have bought in, all seven days before the person they’re recruiting pays any money or signs anything.

There were plenty of people who believed that MLMs should be included in the FTC rule when it was enacted a decade ago, but they were granted an exception following massive pushback from the industry. “That’s the power of lobbying for you,” said Douglas Brooks, an attorney who specializes in MLMs.

That could be about to change. The FTC announced in June that it would review the business opportunity rule as part of a revised 10-year review schedule — and there is hope that, this time around, MLMs might be roped in.

Earlier this year, then-FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra (who was recently confirmed as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), put out a statement urging that MLMs and gig-economy platforms be included in the rule. Now that Chopra’s at the CFPB, the other commissioners — including FTC Chair Lina Khan, a protégé of Chopra’s, and Noah Phillips, a Republican-appointed commissioner who has criticized MLMs in the past — are expected to take a look at the issue.

Outside the FTC, anti-MLM sentiment has been on the rise of late as people involved have felt more emboldened to speak out about the pitfalls of the business model and high-profile media projects have called attention to the issue.

MLMs are certain to push back against their inclusion. One lawyer I spoke to, who asked to withhold their name because they have clients in the industry, told me that the rule would be “disastrous” for MLMs and likely “decimate” the industry. Whether the FTC actually makes any changes to the rule is uncertain, and the process could take months or even years. But it’s a start.

MLMs lobbied their way out of regulation a decade ago. It’s not clear whether they’ll be so lucky now.

To back up a bit, multilevel marketing is a business model where sellers derive profits in two ways — by selling a product or service, and by recruiting other people to sell that product or service. Generally, the latter is more lucrative than the former.

It’s a big industry. The Direct Selling Association (DSA), a trade group representing MLMs, says it was worth $40 billion in 2020 and encompasses millions of sellers. It’s also a controversial one: The vast, vast majority of sellers make little, if any, money in MLMs (they often lose money), and consultants and companies have been caught on multiple occasions making misleading claims about earnings potential and product effectiveness.

Critics say MLMs are in essence pyramid schemes, where only people at the top make money, and do so by constantly recruiting new members. MLMs reject this characterization, but at the very least, some MLMs have gotten into trouble with regulators for bad behavior, including Amway, AdvoCare, and Herbalife.

MLMs aren’t completely unregulated — the FTC and Securities Exchange Commission, for example, have some purview over them. But it’s hard not to wonder whether there could be more guardrails, including with something like the business opportunity rule, which MLMs have vociferously opposed.

First proposed in 2006 and finalized in 2011, the business opportunity rule is meant to protect consumers from “bogus business opportunities” by laying out some basic requirements about what potential recruits need to be told and when.

When the rule was first proposed, the MLM industry went into overdrive to try to make sure it wouldn’t apply to them. As The Verge outlined in 2014, the DSA got over 17,000 people to send comment letters to the FTC opposing the then-forming rule being applied to MLMs. (By comparison, MLM critics sent under 200 letters.) MLMs also boosted lobbying expenditures and got dozens of members of Congress to write to the FTC urging it to let MLMs be.

“They just swamped the FTC with things basically saying, ‘If you do this to us, it’ll destroy the industry,’” Brooks said.

MLMs were successful: The FTC decided that they should be exempted from the rule, determining that it “would have imposed greater burdens on the MLM industry than other types of business opportunity sellers without sufficient countervailing benefits to consumers.” An FTC staff report said that some MLMs do engage in bad practices and are pyramid schemes, but that would better be determined on a case-by-case basis and the “record developed was insufficient as a basis for crafting MLM disclosures that would effectively help consumers make an informed decision about the risks of joining a particular MLM.”

Looking at how MLMs operate, critics have questioned whether the FTC’s decision was the right one — and hope they’ll decide differently now. There’s been increased scrutiny by the public on MLMs in recent years, and regulators have continued to take notice of their practices. The FTC has sent out warning letters to MLMs during the pandemic over their earnings and product claims (companies and sellers have taken advantage of the crisis). The regulator is currently enmeshed in a lawsuit against Neora, which sells skin care and wellness products, over allegations that it is a pyramid scheme.

The public has taken more notice of MLMs and the business model as well. For a long time, many people who were involved in MLMs and failed (which most do) didn’t talk about it — they were embarrassed, or they felt guilty over roping their friends and family into it, too. Former sellers and experts say that MLM culture is one where leaders place blame for failure fully on the shoulders of the individual.

Sellers are told that if it doesn’t work out, it’s their fault and their fault alone. But there has been an explosion of growth in anti-MLM communities on the internet, and there seems to be a greater awareness of the drawbacks the business model brings with it.

In other words, the FTC won’t just be flooded with comments from the pro-MLM community this time around, it’s also likely to hear more from the anti-MLM community as well.

“I would expect that there are going to be many comments, and I would expect that the MLM industry will gather its troops,” said Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising, a consumer advocacy nonprofit.

The FTC’s exact timing here is unclear. Patten said she expects action to begin in December, though she acknowledges it’s a bit of an “informed guess.” Even then, there’s a long road ahead, as the FTC will have to solicit public comments, send notices to lawmakers, and could hold arguments regarding changes. “This is a slow and laborious process,” Patten said.

Now that Chopra is at the CFPB, there have been some doubts among MLM critics as to how efforts to include MLMs in the business opportunity rule will proceed at the FTC. Chopra was the commissioner who had explicitly mentioned including MLMs under the rule, and now, the FTC has four commissioners instead of the usual five, so votes could come down to a two-two split.

Still, Patten said she’s relatively optimistic. “If we’re focused on MLM, I think of all the deceptive marketing issues in a deck of cards, MLM is the one that it appears all commissioners agree is an issue,” she said.

The FTC declined to comment on the matter, noting that they generally don’t speak publicly about rule-making processes as they are underway.

People should know what they’re getting into with MLMs

When you watch something like the LuLaRoe documentary or listen to a podcast like The Dream, it’s sometimes hard not to land in the same spot: How in the world can this be legal? Or at the very least, why isn’t more being done to look out for people before they get sucked in?

Most people don’t make money; plenty lose money. Some companies make earnings disclosures available, but they’re generally really difficult to read and understand. Even if it’s relatively clear that eight in 10 consultants make less than $10 a month, recruits are sold on the hope that they’ll be one of the lucky few to make $100,000.

Many MLMs don’t really know where their products go once they arrive at the sellers, who are often encouraged to buy in order to stay active in the company and show their commitment. (Their uplines, the people above them, make money when they buy.) Whether sellers are actually offloading those lotions or essential oils or earrings to other people, or just piling them up in their garage, the corporate office often is unaware.

Including MLMs in the business opportunity rule wouldn’t be a panacea, but at the very least, experts say it could be a good start. “All this rule would have required were some pretty basic disclosures and a seven-day cooling-off period, and you’re saying this is going to destroy the industry?” Brooks, the MLM attorney, said. “What’s going on here? Why would that be so destructive?”

A sample disclosure form on the FTC’s website doesn’t look that complex. Yet, Brooks said he expects it to be a “knock-down, drag-out” fight if it looks to the industry like MLMs will get included in the business opportunity rule. “I don’t doubt that they will go to Congress and try to get a law passed that will sort of preempt that effort,” he said. Indeed, there is a direct selling caucus in Washington, DC, with more than three dozen members, Republican and Democrat alike.

In a statement to Vox, Joseph Mariano, president and CEO of the DSA, said the organization “looks forward to a constructive engagement with the FTC on any prospective rule-making that might apply to direct sellers.” He said the DSA “has a long history of encouraging self-regulation and consumer protection as a complement to appropriate and reasonable government regulation” and pointed to the DSA’s code of ethics, which member companies and sellers must abide by, and the DSA’s self-regulatory council.

Brooks thinks efforts to curb MLM activity should go further than the business opportunity rule and other tools currently in the FTC’s toolbox. (Earlier this year, the Supreme Court curbed some of the FTC’s ability to seek monetary relief, which has prompted some of the conversation around the business opportunity rule.) In his view, regulators need to have harder lines around what MLMs can and can’t do in the first place.

“The FTC should prohibit certain types or aspects of MLM compensation plans, because the real problem with these companies is in the compensation plans, it’s the whole structure of the thing,” Brooks said. “People end up spending thousands and tens of thousands of dollars having thought that this was originally a $50 investment.”

So back to my banana business. At the very least, many experts say, I should have to tell you if the banana sellers under me are making $1 or $1 million a month. If I promise you that you’ll be a banana billionaire, I should have proof, and also tell you if there was a banana-related fraud lawsuit in my past, and give you a few days to decide if you want to get in on the bananas — whether I’m an MLM or not.

The harder question — and one the FTC isn’t looking at now, but perhaps should — is whether I should be able to get you in on the banana business at all if I know you’re almost sure to fail. If 99 of 100 sellers are in banana bankruptcy, just how hard can I sell you on the 1 in 100 dream of being a banana billionaire? That’s a question for another day.

Emily Stewart

Source: MLMs could be in FTC trouble with a business opportunity rule change – Vox

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