I was pretty excited to buy my family memberships for MoviePass a couple of years ago. At the time, the deal was that for one low price, you’d get unlimited access to watch movies.
It seemed too good to be true and it definitely was. The app was unreliable, MoviePass partners at theaters didn’t know how to process the membership cards and then ‘unlimited’ movies became pretty limited. I am not saying that as a blogger, but a really annoyed former customer.
If published reports are true, it appears that the one thing that remained unlimited is the unlimited harassment of employees by Bob Ellis, a friend of the CEO Ted Farnsworth.
Ellis, a former manager for luminaries like Meat Loaf and the immortal Chaka Khan…Chaka Khan, was brought into MoviePass as a marketing consultant in April, 2018. He appears to have immediately made his mark according to a story in Business Insider
According to the report, Ellis’s marketing skills were focused mainly on female employees of MoviePass. Hands on the small of backs, kisses, massages and late night texts were all part of Ellis’s most social media strategies. He ‘liked’ the ladies in a non-Facebook kind of way.
Four formal complaints were filed and executives threatened to quit, if Ellis was not dealt with.
While Ellis’s status with the company is murky, what is certain is MoviePass appears to be as incompetent on the inside as it is on the outside. And, for both employees and shareholders, unfortunately things rarely get better until there is a traumatic event that triggers major changes.
For toxic organizations, as MoviePass appears to be, change is often slow or nonexistent. But, signs of problems are everywhere.
Let me count the ways.
- The buddy system is strong- If Business Insider reports are correct, Ellis appears to be running amok looking for his next relationship. And he’s being protected by his friend Farnsworth. Ellis isn’t even an actual employee and yet he’s being backed by a powerful friend. As most people find out, toxic tormentors usually have a friend in high places. Ellis certainly does.
- Bad behavior is not addressed. If Farnsworth wanted Ellis to consult and didn’t know of Ellis’s behavior before he joined MoviePass, that would be one thing. However, Ellis became predatory and Farnsworth did little to nothing. That sent a loud message to employees that bad behavior would be tolerated and he would not do a thing to stop the harassment.
- Dysfunction spreads. Toxic behaviors are both a byproduct and a symptom in bad organizational environments. It’s not surprising to see failing business practices follow bad personnel practices.
- In a toxic hole, companies often keep digging. At a time while Ellis was running loose, MoviePass fired the HR department. While HR companies at toxic companies may not be responsive, this brazen act of removing HR while Ellis treated staff meetings like a singles bar appears to be tone deaf at best.
- People flee and sometimes spectacularly–numerous staffers left shortly after the Ellis antics began, but one product manager at MoviePass left the company with a little more ‘oomph’. Eric Jeng, a product manager, copied the ENTIRE company on his resignation letter. He said he could no longer in ‘good conscience work for people who foster such a perilous work environment for their employees’.
Not everyone leaves a job with the fire that Jeng left with, but the feelings of betrayal and disbelief are palpable when you review his letter.
It’s time for MoviePass leadership to stop turning its employee experience into a horror movie.