On a regular basis via an internal site, Hy-Vee’s 93,000 employees can watch new episodes of “Employee Show: Hy-Lights,” a well-produced in-house program where spokesperson Tina Potthoff interviews CEO Randy Edeker about the latest happenings in the West Des Moines-based company.
However, last Friday’s “Hy-Lights” was different, according to one former Hy-Vee employee who was laid off this week. She previously worked in the marketing department and requested anonymity because of potential personal consequences related to losing her job.
According to the former marketing employee, Edeker hinted during the episode at changes coming at the corporate level—including the 121 layoffs that occurred this week, according to Local 5 News in Des Moines. Hy-Vee told Local 5 that only 19 people are considered to be “laid off” since the other office workers who lost their job as a result of these changes were reportedly told they would be allowed to apply to become store managers.
“‘We can train anyone to be a store manager in six months.’ That’s what the video said,’” the former marketing employee told Starting Line. “But when they told us about letting us go, they didn’t say anything about, ‘Hey, do you want to be a store manager.’”
Starting Line left a voicemail for Hy-Vee’s communications department on Thursday—that has gone unreturned—seeking more information on the layoffs. Starting Line’s attempts to get information from Hy-Vee about layoffs last week also went unfulfilled.
The former employee said the link to watch the video came out at about 5 p.m. and by 8:30 p.m. one of Hy-Vee’s top marketing managers sent out a mass email that included employees in the IT and marketing departments and a number of people who were stationed at Hy-Vee’s “Helpful Smiles Technology” Center in Grimes.
She said the email told everyone to report to the Grimes office at 8 a.m. on Monday and be ready to work.
“Most of us are remote—there’s not even enough desks in Grimes—we knew something was going on,” the former marketing employee said. “I was just trying to stay positive and then I get an invite to a meeting at 10 a.m.”
She and seven other marketing team members—some of whom had only worked at Hy-Vee for a few months—were at the 10 a.m. meeting, the former employee said. They were greeted by two higher-level marketing directors and a human resources representative.
“They could barely look at us,” she noted, as she and her colleagues were told they were being let go. She also said they were told it wasn’t based on performance or anything of that nature.
“Then we were escorted out,” she said. “There’s no exit interviews.”
Employees were given two weeks’ pay and told they could start applying for unemployment benefits on April 3.
Another former Hy-Vee employee who worked for Helpful Smiles TV (HSTV)—the grocer’s digital streaming network—also shared their experience. The HSTV employee was on a team of 16 people, half of whom were laid off Tuesday. One person started two weeks ago.
The former HSTV employee, who requested anonymity to protect their professional employment prospects, said there was no prior indication about what was going to happen.
“We were told that we had the green light to go ahead and keep producing and keep expanding our team because we have a ton of projects on the books,” they told Starting Line. “This came out of complete left field. Even my team leads, they had no idea until the morning of as well.”
In January, Hy-Vee announced a dating show called “Love at First Bite” that was set to air on HSTV.
The HSTV employee didn’t watch Friday’s “Hy-Light” show but said they received an email on Saturday telling them to report to work in Grimes on Monday, a day they were scheduled for remote work.
The former HSTV employee said their boss told them to ignore that message and work remotely per usual. They were unaware of the layoffs until they came into the office Tuesday. When they opened their email, they were told to report to the corporate office in West Des Moines for a 9 a.m. meeting.
“After learning about the layoffs, I kind of knew what was coming,” they said.
The timing of the layoffs coincides with drastic reforms to Iowa’s unemployment law.
Under a proposed new state law, unemployed Iowans would be limited to 16 weeks of unemployment benefits—the lowest in the Midwest—and be forced to accept lower-paying jobs by as low as 60% of their previous wage.
Hy-Vee publicly blamed COVID for the layoffs, but former employees told Starting Line they don’t buy that narrative.
By its own accord, Hy-Vee’s sales have grown during the pandemic. From $10.6 billion in the 2019 fiscal year to more than $11 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $12 billion, which Hy-Vee lists at the bottom of its most recent press releases.
“It doesn’t make sense at all,” the former marketing employee said of blaming COVID for the layoffs.
The former HSTV employee said they were told their team was being let go because Hy-Vee was forecasting a recession in 2023, and that Hy-Vee needed to pull back on marketing spending and reassess how HSTV was going to work in the future to circumvent those potential losses.
“They gave out all of our names and resumes to all their partnering agencies,” they said. After interviewing with one of Hy-Vee’s partner agencies, the former HSTV employee said the agency told the Hy-Vee was going to outsource all of its creative work to that firm and others.
“They were told that, if anything, they were going to be getting an influx of work coming to them,” the former HSTV employee said. “I just thought that was really interesting that they lay us off just to outsource all of the work.”
The former staffer wants people to hear from those affected by Hy-Vee’s decision, which is why they are speaking out. They said many of the HSTV employees worked at Hy-Vee because it’s a multibillion-dollar company and they thought it offered stability.
“To be just let go like this—so quickly and abruptly,” they said. “I also feel for the people that had worked there for 15-plus years and to be let go in a room full of people all at once. Like, I can’t even imagine.”
by Ty Rushing
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