Oprah leaving WW board, EA set to lay off hundreds of workers

Plus, the worst way to reject job candidates.

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s take a look at a few news stories from the past week and see what we can learn from them.

1. Oprah leaves WW board after she used weight loss drugs

There’s no doubt that Oprah Winfrey is one of most impactful names in media history. Even years after her hit talk show ended, Oprah still commands huge audiences. But now Winfrey is in the news for another reason — leaving the WW (formerly Weight Watchers) board because she used weight loss drugs, which could have been perceived as a conflict of interest.

According to NBC News:

Winfrey announced that she would be donating her WW stock to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“I have been a long-time supporter of this worthy organization, and I am proud to continue my support,” she said in the news release.

Winfrey added that weight health is a “critically important topic” and that she will continue to be a “vocal advocate” on the issue. She is hosting an event in May about weight in partnership with WW.

Oprah is undoubtedly a A+ communicator. What’s notable here is that Oprah got out ahead of potential conflicts of interest by both removing herself from the board and donating her shares to a worthy cause while still advocating for the importance weight-related health, an issue for which she has long been an outspoken advocate.

“Oprah has been an inspiring presence and passionate advocate for our members, providing critical insights and counsel that has helped shape WeightWatchers over these last 8 years. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank her for her energy, dedication, and for continuing to play a role as collaborator and thought partner going forward. What I know for sure, we will dearly miss her presence on the Board,” said Thilo Semmelbauer, chairman of the WW board, in a news release.

In many organizations, board members are a key part of the comms equation, and both sides handled this well by keeping the issue of health at the top of the conversation.

2. EA poised to cut 5% of workforce

EA (Electronic Arts), creator of The Sims, the Madden series and many other video games, announced that it’s cutting several hundred jobs, amounting to 5% of its total workforce. In a note from obtained by Variety, CEO Andrew Wilson writes that the studio will move away from licensed titles and work on improving its real estate situation to help operations.

Wilson also outlined the scope of the impact in the note to employees.

In this time of change, we expect these decisions to impact approximately 5 percent of our workforce. I understand this will create uncertainty and be challenging for many who have worked with such dedication and passion and have made important contributions to our company. While not every team will be impacted, this is the hardest part of these changes, and we have deeply considered every option to try and limit impacts to our teams. Our primary goal is to provide team members with opportunities to find new roles and paths to transition onto other projects. Where that’s not possible, we will support and work with each colleague with the utmost attention, care, and respect. Communicating these impacts has already begun and will be largely completed by early next quarter.

I want to extend my appreciation to everyone who has helped contribute to EA’s ongoing story. We are a team that leans into our values to lead the future of entertainment, and I look forward to what we will create together. Thank you for all that you do.

Layoffs aren’t fun, but there is a right and wrong way to conduct them. EA’s message falls on the right side of the coin here. Wilson is clear, compassionate and grateful in his messaging. These are the notes any leader should strive to hit during difficult times. A little compassion can go a long way in terms of culture, retention of remaining employees, and recruitment in the future.

3. The wrong way to notify a candidate about a job rejection

Everyone’s been rejected from a job — it’s a part of the working world. But according to a recent report from Slate, there’s an unfortunate trend afoot in the interview process: rejecting candidates by video call. In an effort to “be more human” in the process, human resources departments are getting candidates’ hopes up by scheduling video calls, only to break the bad news.

This story from one job hunter on Ask a Manager is particularly bad, telling the story of a candidate who dressed in a full suit with hair and makeup, only to be dumped via video call:

I sat there semi-dumbfounded, in a full suit, feeling like an idiot with little to say. It felt extremely awkward. I had no room to emote in that moment and no time to process. I kept a smile plastered on my face and just said, “Thanks for the opportunity, if you ever have a position that matches, please reach out to me.”

It was bizarre and made the rejection that much more painful. I was sort of shocked that someone would schedule a video call to tell me this. … Instead of feeling kind, it felt very cruel. I went through the trouble of getting myself together for a video chat that ended up being maybe five minutes long. I understand not wanting to come across as impersonal, but it made me feel put on the spot.

It should go without saying, but DO NOT DO THIS! While a simple rejection email might seem cold, it’s far better than getting someone’s hopes up under false pretenses. If the candidate wants feedback, it’s fine to offer it, but in a world with too many meetings already on the schedule, this really needs to be an email.

4. How about some good news?

Have a great weekend comms all-stars!

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.


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