Better employees pose for a photo at the headquarters in New York City.
Right before the holiday season, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg fired 900 employees via Zoom.
Garg took some “time off” afterward, but now he’s returning to his post.
“No matter how much the people are reassuring you that you’re safe, it doesn’t matter,” one employee told Insider.
After coming under fire for laying off 900 employees from mortgage startup Better.com on Zoom right before the holiday season, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg “took some time off.” Now, he’s back.
Garg first landed in the hot seat when footage leaked of a mass layoff he conducted over Zoom. He was lampooned for the seemingly cold manner with which he handled the layoffs, telling the effective group they were “part of the unlucky group that is being laid off” and their “employment here is terminated effective immediately.”
A day later, he told his remaining workforce he should have issued the layoffs three months before and that he had failed by over-hiring. Garg went on to accuse the laid-off employees of “stealing” by “working an average of two hours a day while clocking in eight hours plus.” Days after the layoffs, it was announced that Garg would be stepping back from his role as CEO to take time off. It wasn’t clear when — or if — he would come back after such public vitriol.
Then, this week, in an email obtained by Insider, Garg wrote that he was coming back to the company full-time. He said he had used the time to “reflect and refocus.”
“I am deeply sorry for the angst, distraction, and embarrassment my actions have caused,” Garg wrote. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about where we are as a company and the type of leadership Better needs … and the leader I want to be.”
Garg went on to pledge to be more conscious of the impact of his words, to place more trust in the people who help him lead, and to “work with senior leadership to ensure an inclusive and respectful culture.”
Three Better employees who spoke to Insider weren’t sure when — or if — Garg was going to return to the company. But now that he is, the words in his email ring hollow. (Insider reached out to Better for comment on Garg’s return and the claims of the employees in this story. The company has not responded.)
One employee, who has been granted anonymity for reasons related to employment, said she rolled her eyes when she read the email. One part of the email specifically struck her as disingenuous: when Garg said he was known for being a direct communicator who may not always choose his words carefully enough.
“That’s diminishing to his behavior,” she said. “He’s always been the kooky CEO who will drop an F-bomb in an all-hands meeting, but that’s completely different from mass laying off 900 people before the holidays and writing it off as outspoken.”
She said that without Garg in meetings, it was easier to pretend the layoffs hadn’t happened. But now that he’s back, it’s difficult to forget what happened to so many of her Better colleagues. And, she said, people around her keep quitting.
A fellow Better employee who spoke to Insider agreed. He said he checks his LinkedIn feed each day to see news of more colleagues leaving the company in what he calls a “brain drain.”
It’s hard to watch the company lose talent, the employee said, because he really does believe in Better’s mission to make home ownership more accessible.
“We do have a mission and a vision,” he said. “There is good we can do. We don’t need the negative press right now. There is going to be a point of no return. This is not sustainable.”
Although management — and even Garg himself — are promising to make efforts to repair the company’s morale and reputation, the employee sees empty promises.
“It doesn’t seem like they’re really listening,” he said. “Our reputation would be better without [Garg]. Our other issues are fixable. They’re scaling problems any late-stage startup would have as they start to transform into a more mature company. But [with] the CEO stain, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
That uncertainty expands into upper leadership, who are trying their best to assure lower employees that more layoffs aren’t coming. But it’s difficult for lower-level employees to believe their managers, one employee said, when those same managers didn’t know about the initial layoffs.
“No one has a say if Vishal is there,” she said. “So no matter how much the people you trust are reassuring you that you’re safe and performing well, it doesn’t matter.”
Another employee, who works in the real-estate arm of Better, feels differently about Garg returning.
“He has a lot to offer the company,” she said. “He’s extremely smart. He’s a visionary. He doesn’t have great bedside manner, but the best surgeons don’t either. It doesn’t mean you won’t go to them when you need surgery.”
With Garg back at the helm of Better, she feels relieved.
“It’s best to hope and pray he did do some reflecting [while taking time off],” she said. “I can’t imagine he hasn’t made some major changes.”
Although she’s glad Garg is back, she does feel the same sense of worry about the safety of her position that her colleagues do. She says she doesn’t take days off and feels like she has to prove her worth every day.
“That’s OK, I can do that,” she said. “Every day, I think I have to make it to where it would hurt them to lose me.”
Real Estate, News, Better.com, Better, Mortgage, Mortgages, Startups, Real Estate, BI-freelancer, contributor 2022, contributor 2019, Business News Contributor
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