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Better.com CEO blasts laid-off employees, accusing them of ‘stealing’ by working only two hours daily

December 4, 2021, 1:39 AM UTC

Better.com CEO Vishal Garg publicly accused hundreds of staffers he laid off on Wednesday of “stealing” from their colleagues and customers by being unproductive.

Garg posted a series of messages seen by Fortune on an anonymous professional network days after he laid off more than 900 employees from his online mortgage company. 

“You guys know that at least 250 of the people terminated were working an average of 2 hours a day while clocking in 8 hours+ a day in the payroll system? They were stealing from you and stealing from our customers who pay the bills that pay our bills. Get educated,” Garg wrote on Thursday under the username “uneducated” on professional network Blind. 

In an interview with Fortune, Garg confirmed he was the user behind the account and said that he stood by his comments. “I think they could have been phrased differently, but honestly the sentiment is there,” he said.

While he expressed regret about the layoffs and said he would have liked to retrain everyone for other roles, Garg emphasized that it’s a difficult time in the mortgage industry and that it’s overstaffed. The number of mortgage applications is falling as interest rates slowly rise.

Four weeks ago, Garg said that he and his management team started reviewing individual employee productivity data, including missed telephone call rates, number of inbound and outbound calls, employees showing up late to meetings with a customer, and other factors. “As we started to slow down our pace of hiring, we saw some alarming statistics and a number of our customers were not getting the service that they deserved from our teammates,” he said. The data factored into who the company decided to lay off, he said.

Garg’s posts on Blind follow a difficult week for both Better.com employees and ex-staffers alike, five of which tell Fortune they were blindsided by the terminations of approximately 9% of the company’s staff. Employees say they were particularly concerned over the tone and content of a companywide call Garg hosted after the layoffs, in which the chief executive said he would be closely watching the productivity of the remaining workers, according to three employees who were on the call.

“His tone was extremely harsh and threatening,” says one current employee, who asked not to be identified. Two people on the call told Fortune that Garg had said the next year would be a “bloodbath.”

“It was just very strange,” says one of the people. “The comments were disturbing.”

Garg tells Fortune it was not his intent to make anyone feel threatened and that “there is no additional watching taking place,” apart from what is already required by regulations, such as recording customer calls. He did confirm the company is paying more attention to productivity data.

Garg added that his bloodbath comment had been taken out of context and was in reference to his outlook for the broader mortgage market.

Throughout the tumultuous week of the terminations, many employees and ex-staffers turned to Blind to air their concerns over the layoffs and their chief executive’s behavior. In an effort to defend the company, Garg responded to their posts with his own acerbic messages.

“Leave now and save us both the trouble,” he retorted to one critical post on Blind. “You’re likely super well paid. Email me directly and we will pay you to leave early so we don’t sit here waiting for you to show up with your end of the work that needs to be done, and then get left holding the bag.”

Garg said in an emailed statement prior to the interview with Fortune that he went on Blind “to provide context regarding the planning and process that went behind the layoffs.” He also said that he wanted “to acknowledge that we are not sure we did them right, and if people felt that they were affected but actually had great performance to reach out to us.”

Garg founded Better.com in 2016, a digital mortgage company backed by SoftBank, Novator Partners, Activant Capital, and others. Following its most recent funding, the business was valued at $7.7 billion, according to venture capital tracking site PitchBook.

During the pandemic, Better.com, headquartered in New York City, ballooned in size as the housing market went into overdrive. After the layoffs, the company still has more than 9,000 employees across the U.S., India, and the U.K.

Garg said that both Better’s board and investors “have been totally supportive” about the layoffs and how they were handled. He declined to share which investors or board members had voiced their support.

Two current employees and an ex-staffer told Fortune that Garg is known to be erratic on Better.com’s internal Slack messaging system and in company meetings. He has apologized for alleged previous aggressive comments, according to a report.

Better is expecting to go public via a SPAC deal before the end of the year. It received $1.5 billion in debt and convertible notes earlier this week ahead of its planned public debut.

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