MICROSOFT has paid its workers to take a controversial self-help seminar that some critics have compared to a cult.
Staffers at the embattled company have been reimbursed for attending the Landmark Forum, a marathon "improvement" session which promises everything from better health to "breakthroughs" that will dramatically change the lives of its followers.
The group sprung out of est, the loopy awareness seminars developed by Werner Erhard in the 1970s that were notorious for their confrontational style.
Rick Ross, a cult intervention expert, tells us Landmark "is not a Dale Carnegie seminar we're talking about. It's a very, very controversial group that has no direct relationship to business at all."
"I receive constant complaints about this group on an almost daily basis. People that I have spoken to feel the seminar was abusive emotionally, manipulative psychologically and they felt an enormous amount of pressure to conform and adhere to the group."
On a web site promoting Landmark's Seattle office, a prominently displayed message reads: "For Microsoft Employees: The course is approved external training by Microsoft and is typically covered by Microsoft if you make a request of your manager."
A Microsoft spokesperson told us: "Microsoft was unaware of the posting on the Landmark web site and we are looking into it. At this time, Microsoft has a practice of not working with this company."
But a staffer at Landmark's Seattle headquarters says, "I know that a lot of Microsoft employees have been compensated to do the Landmark Forum. It's not anything that we track or promote, but there's a been a lot of people in here from Microsoft."
Landmark's "curriculum for living," a four-part set of self-help courses which start at $425 a pop, boasts some prominent defenders. Ramond D. Fowler, CEO of the American Psychological Association, wrote a letter for Landmark stating that "nothing" in the seminar he attended "could be considered harmful."
In addition, a survey by a Connecticut-based researcher found that 70 percent of the 1,300 forum participants found it to be "one of life's most rewarding experiences."
But critics of the group, including some who declined to be quoted, agreed that Landmark's intensive self-help sessions can be traumatic.
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