Coronavirus: Weight Watchers executes mass firing via Zoom

WW International, the company formerly known as Weight Watchers, fired an undisclosed number of employees one week ago during simultaneous Zoom calls across the country, multiple media outlets reported.

Not only did the move shock many longtime staffers who believed they were simply participating in a standard company Zoom meeting, but the health and wellness company declined to confirm the exact number of its roughly 17,000 mostly part-time employees let go, The New York Times reported. Company representatives attributed the restructuring in part to the novel coronavirus and in part to a shifting digital strategy.

“This is supposed to be a caring, wellness corporation,” Joanne Patten of Houston, a part-time WW employee for 11 years, told the newspaper adding, “The way they did it, it was just heartless.”

The saga began eight days ago when an anonymous post on claimed thousands of WW staffers had been laid off.

In a statement to Fox Business, the company thanked all dispatched employees for “their efforts on behalf of our members during their years of service.”

“As the COVID-19 crisis has forced the closure of our physical studios around the world, we have had to make some difficult decisions that have directly impacted the lives of some of our valued team members,” the statement said.

Nick Hotchkin, WW’s chief financial officer, told the Times that laid-off workers were encouraged to contact their managers for follow-up after the video meetings, which were conducted on Zoom for efficiency.

“It wasn’t practical to have all of the conversations be one-on-one,” Hotchkin told the newspaper.

The restructuring, he said, began in late April when WW announced plans to trim $100 million in costs because of the financial squeeze caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Last week’s cuts, along with potential permanent closures of some locations, represent the execution of those plans, he said.

“Even as we start a phased reopening of some of our locations, we know our business will continue to be impacted by this crisis. That was the context in which we decided to restructure our studio business and make substantial changes to our corporate structure and workforce,” Hotchkin told the Times.

Founded by Queens, New York, housewife Jean Nidetch in 1963, Weight Watchers’ “points” system has helped millions of people lose weight. The company broadened its focus to general wellness in recent years under CEO Mindy Grossman, appointed after media mogul Oprah Winfrey paid $43 million in 2015 for a 10% stake in the company and a seat on its board of directors. By 2018, the company rebranded as WW, introducing the slogan “Wellness That Works.”

In its statement to Fox Business, WW called the steps being taken “challenging but necessary moves best prepare us for the future as we continue to support our members and meet them where they need us most.”

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Weight Watchers President and CEO Mindy Grossman speaks at a global employee event in New York. Weight Watchers says it is renaming itself to WW to focus more on overall wellness and not just dieting. (Amy Sussman/AP Images for Weight Watchers, File)