Before I start this post, I want to address the fact that these are all my own feelings, views and opinions and they are not reflective on the brand as a whole at all. The issues I had which contributed to my decision to exit the brand have been dealt with through an exit interview. There is absolutely no bad blood between myself and the girls I worked with, or the brand itself, and I will continue to use their products and write about them.
So for those of you who don’t know me or my background with Benefit, I’ll give you a brief history of my time with them. I started as the account manager for Debenhams Newbury in November 2015, and was there until August 2017 when myself and my husband relocated back to our home town. At this point I decided to leave the brand, but I missed it so much that I got back in touch with them to find me a position closer to us. My initial plan was to find another account manager position as that’s what I loved doing and, without tooting my own horn, I was bloody good at it! However, the account manager position that was available was for Debenhams Meadowhall, which is a flagship door, and is a huge jump from little old Debenhams Newbury. Imagine going from a counter with a seven-day FTE (me as the account manager for five days and a part-time beauty artist for two days) taking between £1500 and £2500 on an average week, to a flagship counter with an FTE of 35+ (a five day business manager, a five day account manager, and numerous beauty artists and brow experts), taking around £15000 on an average week and having a brow bar! It would have been insane, and although I was up for the challenge, I accept that it would have been too much. Therefore, it was decided that I would go to House of Fraser Meadowhall as a part-time beauty artist, but working full-time over the Christmas period, as a developmental role (getting used to a bigger team and a brow bar) before moving to an account manager role in a few months. I started this role in October 2017 and left in January 2018.
My disillusionment with the brand began while I was still the account manager in Newbury, shortly after a new area manager took over. I don’t want to name names, so I’m just going to call her Manager B. I felt ridiculously neglected; we had one visit in a period of approximately eight months and thus no monthly reviews, and emails would often go unanswered. As I mentioned before, Newbury is a very small door, and when Boots Reading (another flagship, similar in size to Debenhams Meadowhall) is in the same area with the same manager, it can be tough to get attention. Flagship doors are always going to be an area managers top priority, but smaller doors still need support, and that’s exactly what I wasn’t getting. How could I ever hope to grow my business and myself as a manager if I could never reach my area manager, never saw her and didn’t have reviews?
There were two turning points with Manager B that first started questioning whether I wanted to stay with the brand or not. The first was when my mental health took a severe decline. I was in the process of waiting for referrals for therapy and starting new medication to deal with anxiety and depression. I knew my mental health was effecting my performance at work and so I wrote Manager B an email explaining exactly what was going on. I wasn’t making excuses for why I wasn’t hitting targets, etc. but I felt that, as my manager, she should know the situation and what was going on, just as the beauty managers within Debenhams knew what was happening. I was pleasantly surprised when I received a really nice response (or a response at all!) saying how brave I was and if I needed any support to let her know. A week or so later I was due to go on a training day to Bristol, which meant getting three different trains from Newbury, traveling for over two hours each way, and finding my way from the station to the venue, all on my own. My anxiety was bad and I just didn’t feel up to doing it on my own, so I contacted the trainer and explained the situation and told her I wouldn’t be able to attend. The next day I received an email from Manager B asking why I thought it was acceptable to just not turn up to training days and asking if I realised that I had cost the company time, money and resources. The fact that just a week previously I had told her I had some pretty intense mental health issues going on, and then she felt like the right way of dealing with the situation was to belittle me and make me out to be a problem and an annoyance just showed what a lack of respect she actually had for her staff. Mental health is such an important issue, and her refusal to deal with these issues in a civil way made me question whether I wanted to work for someone like her.
The second turning point with Manager B was when she made me have a recorded conversation (i.e. a minor disciplinary that would sit on my record for a set period of time) over a holiday that fell in a blackout period but had been authorised by my previous area manager. When I was told the dates for the holiday blackouts (periods where no one is allowed to request holiday, usually due to a launch), one that had been authorised by my first area manager fell in that period, so I emailed her and explained this. She told me it was tough, the date wasn’t allowed. Having already had it authorised and arrangements made, she wasn’t actually allowed to then tell me I couldn’t take this holiday day. I tried explaining to her on three other occasions that it had already been authorised, but each time I was cut off early, interrupted, and just told “no”. So I took the holiday anyway (Debenhams told me to). The next thing I know, I’ve got a snotty email in my inbox, and a visit was scheduled for the following week. When I had my recorded conversation, she had written on the paperwork “Laura requested holiday which was declined but she took it anyway” and tried to make me sign it. I refused, as that’s not what happened. She then said that she would write that the holiday had already been authorised IF I agreed to saying that I accepted I should have approached her regarding the situation. I then said I would agree to that IF she would also include that I found her unapproachable having tried to speak to her about on three previous occasions and being rudely dismissed. Safe to say, she didn’t like that.
This was the first time I began questioning my job choice. I actually started applying for other make up companies and was having interviews with Estee Lauder, Dior and Urban Decay when she called to say she was leaving Benefit. I then decided to stay put and see what my new manager was like. My new manager (we’ll call her Manager C) was an absolute dream and I still consider her a good friend. She saw my potential and my passion for the brand, and supported me whenever I needed it. She never once patronised me, she listened to everything I had to say and always took my opinions into consideration. The way I bloomed as a manager was all down to her and was so noticeable that I even gained praise from the regional manager for my growth! I honestly cannot thank Manager C enough, even now, for everything she did for me and for relighting the passion I originally felt for the brand!
Fast forward to October 2017, after I had relocated and decided to take the position of beauty artist in House of Fraser Meadowhall. Once again, the issues here all stemmed from my area manager (Manager D). My first issue is that I was basically lied to, to get me to take the role because they wanted to fill the vacancy. I was promised development and training and I got nothing. I was patronised on a daily basis and treated like an idiot even though I had two years experience of managing an account! The only time I actually got to develop my skills were when the account manager was on holiday – I was good enough to run the counter, or at least help run the counter, when she wasn’t there, but I wasn’t allowed to do anything the rest of the time. I was constantly told “oh it’s just because it’s busy with it being Christmas, in January we’ll start” but I honestly believe no one had any intentions of “developing” me.
My second issue was the whole conduct of Manager D. I received no praise from her whatsoever. Even when I was smashing targets and smashing productivity, and really trying my best and working my hardest, there was no praise, only criticism. An example of this is on Black Friday. The store was manic, as expected, and I came in early and finished late. I was running around like an idiot all day serving customers and we also had a customer come in and complain about Debenhams so I took the task of fixing things for her. Manager D’s only words to me that day were “you have a ladder in your tights, go change them”. It just felt like a proper smack in the face when I was working my socks off. If I was lazy and didn’t want to do anything, I could totally understand, but I actually envisaged a career for myself within Benefit; I wanted to progress. She routinely accused me of wearing make up that wasn’t Benefit (which I never actually did), and even accused me of having a face tattoo (no idea where she got that from). The biting point was when she told me my social media “isn’t brand appropriate” – what I do on my Instagram etc is my business and no one else’s – I didn’t even have my place of work visible on my accounts. I left work that day in tears and it was that day that I decided I wanted to get out. My mental health was suffering. I was working so hard and getting nothing in return, no thank you or well done. I felt like my best wasn’t good enough, and I knew that there was no way I was ever going to progress while I was in this environment. My notice went in the next day.
Manager D wasn’t the sole reason I left though. As much as I love the brand and love the products, Benefit have certain ideals that I don’t agree with and ultimately I couldn’t work for a brand who think this way. The first thing being “connecting” or “traffic stopping”. This is when people approach you with no cue from yourself to try and sell you their products. I personally find this incredibly pushy and rude, and if I am ever traffic stopped in the street or in a shop, I immediately say no because I know they’re just after my money. Traffic stopping is something that all Benefit employees have to do all day every day. They see it as introducing the brand to people who wouldn’t normally be interested. I still see it as pushy and rude. It is of such high importance to Benefit that you actually have to audition to prove that you can go out and get customers before they even consider hiring you.
The second thing I have a serious issue with is the way that they portray themselves to customers. For example, Benefit love to preach about how they are a brand for the every day woman, how they’re not about complicated artistry and they’re products are for EVERYONE, no matter age, gender, style, race, etc. This could not be further from the truth if you work for them! If you don’t fit the mould of tanned, plastic-esque girl who loves partying and the charts and this season’s latest fashion, you don’t belong in Benefit. I know I’m not conventional in my looks etc – I hate fake tan and love being pale; I don’t wear the latest fashions and dress from seventy years ago instead; I listen to alternative music – and I always felt judged for this. I was made to cover myself in bronzer even though I’m not comfortable with it and I honestly don’t think it suits me. I constantly had to deal with ever so slight comments about my dress sense or my hair or my tattoos. I just find it all very hypocritical to be honest. None of these things effect my ability to do my job, but I was always made to feel like it was an issue.
Lastly, once you are in Benefit, they make it very hard to progress. For example, if I wanted to progress from account manager to an area manager, I would have to achieve the highest grade in my monthly reviews for three months straight, before being placed on the “passport” scheme for six months to a year. Even then, I was not guaranteed to progress. But my area manager, Manager C, applied for the area manager job completely external to the company. She had never worked on a beauty counter and had no experience with the brand, but got the job. Don’t get me wrong, she totally deserved the job, but I just hate how someone who has never worked for the brand before can get a good position, but people who work hard and love the brand find it impossible to move up the ranks.
There were other factors that contributed to my decision to leave that were completely external to Benefit. For example, I was commuting to work and as I don’t drive, I relied on trains. It sometimes added four hours to my working day. There were times when I was working til 11:15pm and not getting home til gone 12:30am and then getting up at 4:30am to be on the 5:45am train. It was just exhausting. Additionally, I went to university for three years to have a career in writing, not in retail. It got to the stage where I thought “you know what, it’s been almost three years since I graduated and I’ve done nothing with my degree; it’s about time that I changed that”.
So there you have it. There are the ins and outs of why I left Benefit Cosmetics. If you’re considering a career with them, please don’t be put off by my experiences – this is a unique case and is definitely not reflective of the company! I am sad that it came to this because it was Benefit that started my love of cosmetics and they were actually the first premium brand I ever actually bought! So I’m never going to forget them, kind of like that first boyfriend that you grow up and move on from, but never totally forget! Plus I couldn’t live without my brow products, Porefessional and Box O’ Powders!
It was definitely the right decision for me to leave. You can see the difference in my Instagram posts the longer I was with them; you can feel the passion I had when I first started but the later posts have a totally different vibe, like the passion was all but gone. I didn’t want it to get to the stage where I absolutely hated the brand and felt very resentful towards them.
As previously mentioned, I’m still going to be using the products and writing about them (keep your eyes peeled for a Bad Gal Bang post soon!), and to be honest I probably love the brand more now than before!