Posts Tagged ‘Weight Watchers’

I Lose Weight; They Lose Respect

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

This week I discovered that the woman who I believe saved my life – she pooh-poohs such talk – might be earning slightly less than the people who flip burgers at McDonald’s. How could that be?

She’s a meeting leader for Weight Watchers, which I joined around Christmas of 2006 when I felt lousy, looked awful and was dangerously overweight. My idea of physical activity was a walk from the newsroom to the cafeteria for coffee and a cheese Danish. (That was my early morning break; others would follow through the day.) Walking up the 14 steps to the second floor of my house left me panting. I thought the world was always watching and judging me but now I think I was actually invisible. Once, an editor put me in touch with a woman he knew in Colorado who lost a lot of weight. We talked and I promptly forgot everything she said.

Eventually, and after arthroscopic surgery to fix a knee injured by excess weight and after another scary look in full-length mirror, I got to a Weight Watchers meeting. I filled out some paperwork, but was not optimistic; I had done things like this before. I got on the scale, which showed a number that I thought had been reserved for certain stories in Ripley’s Believe it or Not or certain attractions at Ringling Bros.

I changed, due in large part to a great meeting leader who, like all WW leaders, lost a lot of weight before being hired. Now, I go to a Weight Watchers meeting every Tuesday. I go to the gym five days a week. I feel like a different person; I guess I am. I bought jeans for the first time in 25 years. I still have a way to go. The program works.

I’ve dropped 110 pounds, but this is no advertisement for Weight Watchers.

This is a testament to two great women who led the meetings I attended, and it’s also challenge to Weight Watchers to start treating their people better. The Times story reports widespread unhappiness among meeting leaders over low pay and other money issues. True to their calling, I should make clear that no Weight Watchers employee ever uttered a word of criticism to me.

That first Weight Watchers leader offered a hand to shake at meetings. She was straightforward about her own weight loss of 55 pounds and the fact that she had kept it off for 11 years. She was enthusiastic. She listened well. She made you believe in yourself. She always offered encouragement that didn’t sound like a rehearsed company line. She knew what we were going through. She had been there and succeeded; now she wanted us to join her. She assured us it was possible. She showed us her “before” picture.

You? I asked. It was her. I was a believer.

Sometimes, if I missed a meeting I’d get an email or a postcard from that first leader saying, as she always said at meetings, that she cared about her members and that she was available for talks and for help in problem times. Was something not working, she would ask, we can fix it. Was I bored with the program? We could fix that as well because, after all is said and done, the program works and, in Weight Watcher talk, no food tastes as good as thin looks.

She has since moved out of state, succeeded by a leader with boundless energy and a great sense of humor, another person whose “before” picture looks like someone else.

The Times story suggests that there’s a dark side to the Weight Watchers Empire, and that as much as its members admire their meeting leaders, WW Central seems to hold them in far less esteem.

I pay $13 a week dues, and it galls me to know precisely how little gets to the meeting leaders. Their base pay is $18 a meeting (higher for better attended meetings). The last time leaders got a raise was more than 10 years ago. I don’t like this but I will continue to go to the meetings, which have – along with my first leader – saved my life. As a friend says, $13 a week to talk and listen and even to get a few interesting recipes is far less than the cost of cardiac surgery.

Additionally, if a leader is interested in making money that even approaches a decent wage, she (most are women) would have to run several meetings a week. But Weight Watchers offers a daily mileage reimbursement only after a leader travels the first 40 miles.

Moreover, a leader in Texas told The Times that Weight Watchers allows two and a half hours per meeting but that more is needed. The time includes setting up a meeting space, weighing members, conducting the meeting itself, cleaning up, selling Weight Watchers products, and doing other chores. The Texas leader said this easily takes three hours.

Unhappy leaders also told of their irritation over being paid a pittance while Weight Watchers spends big bucks to hire people like Jennifer Hudson and Jessica Simpson to pitch the program in its advertising.

David Kirchhoff, the CEO, got just under $3 million in 2011. Faced with joyless meeting leaders, he recently told them that two priorities at Weight Watchers are to “improve your working life” and to improve “the way we reward you for the incredible work you do.”

Of course, he also said pay changes are complicated and would “require careful consideration,” The Times reported.

If employee satisfaction is important to WW, it should understand and accept the old maxim that money talks. As someone who has benefitted greatly I urge Weight Watchers to make that money talk soon.

Especially now, after 10 years.