BetterUp’s coaches are in revolt over contracts, so it’s Prince Harry’s fault?

Prince Harry became the Chief Impact Officer of BetterUp in late 2020. The job was announced a few months later, and since then, BetterUp’s profile has risen globally. BetterUp, a personal coaching outfit, has secured billions in investment and massively expanded throughout North America and Europe. Various corporations have already employed BetterUp for their staff and executives, and BetterUp was recently partnered with the Invictus Games through Harry. But it’s not all sunshine and roses – apparently, BetterUp’s executives started f–king with how their independent contractor coaches are paid, and there was a coach revolt. BetterUp has already started walking back the pay changes, but that hasn’t stopped the Daily Beast and other media outlets from crowing about how “Harry’s company” is in deep trouble.

Prince Harry signed on as the chief impact officer of BetterUp last spring, promising to help promote the startup’s mission of “mental fitness” and its army of more than 2,000 professional coaches. It’s likely a lucrative gig for the British royal: BetterUp raised $300 million at a $4.7 billion valuation in October. But just six months later, an uprising has been brewing among the company’s career coaches following BetterUp’s recent announcement that it would modify their contracts—resulting in what those mentors said was effectively a sneaky pay cut—according to six coaches who spoke with The Daily Beast.

“There’s so many of us now who are upset,” said one coach whose effective pay was slated to fall by nearly a third, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private company matters. “I would say my heart is broken. And I think there’s really questionable ethics going on.”

Two key issues were at the center of the still-evolving dispute: coaches’ pay and a new rating system that would also influence their fees. The company announced a plan to cut a stipend coaches used for note-taking, researching clients, and assigning activities. The firm’s new metrics, meanwhile, retroactively evaluated coaches in part based on how “life-changing” a client found their guidance and how frequently they met for sessions. Those changes in particular stirred unrest over concerns that they would violate industry norms and cause coaches to pander to their clients rather than offer impartial feedback.

“[If] I’m coaching a member, I don’t want to be focused on how they’re going to rate me,” another BetterUp contractor said. “From an ethical perspective… we are there to coach the client, not to have them press the ‘like’ button.”

Now, amid the internal turmoil, BetterUp says it’s working to modify its original plans—though the details are still vague. The company scheduled a number of town halls for this week and pledged to walk back at least some of the changes. “No one will see any sort of decrease in their effective session rate compared to their 2021 effective session rate,” a BetterUp executive wrote to coaches on Tuesday, after The Daily Beast had reached out for comment. The note appeared to leave open the possibility that contracts will be adjusted in 2023, stating, “we are on a multi-year journey, and we will be treating this first year as a learning period.”

The company, which declined to comment, seemed to ease at least some of the coaches’ fury with its latest update. “I am relieved, but not satisfied,” one coach said in response to the email. “The fact that [BetterUp] rolled out their initial plan at all makes me suspect of their intentions, and makes me distrust them. It was so demeaning and insulting to have to pressure them not to give us pay cuts—it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

[From The Daily Beast]

The rest of the article is just unnamed coaches complaining about the changes which are already being walked back. Apparently, executives have already made personal apologies to coaches through webinars, and BetterUp is making all of the right noises about rolling back the changes and listening to their independent contractors. Meaning, the coaches can’t unionize… because they are independent contractors. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are real issues to be worked out and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if BetterUp has grown too big too fast and it definitely sounds like there are some management issues. But as far as corporate responsiveness, BetterUp sounds pretty responsive. It sounds like they f–ked up, acknowledged that and are listening to people telling them how they f–ked up and figuring out what they can do to make it right. Very little of it has to do with Prince Harry, but of course Harry’s CIO position makes this a “royal story.” The only reference to Harry in this Daily Beast piece from the coaches is that they’re concerned BetterUp has hired too many executives in recent years, and there are questions (from the coaches) about how “meaningful” Harry’s role is, or whether it’s all “smoke and mirrors.”

Photos courtesy of BetterUp, Instar.

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42 Responses to “BetterUp’s coaches are in revolt over contracts, so it’s Prince Harry’s fault?”

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  1. ThatsNotOkay says:

    Harry has the luxury of leaving any time he wants, if his mission and the company’s no longer align. Even Invictus can cut and run. The company needs to get its ducks in a row and not do the typical startup bait and switch. It’s a problem with all these stupid tech startups—leadership is power mad and stupid, avaricious, and doesn’t realize it’s whole existence rides on the back of its peons. So treat the peons right, idiots.

    • Catlady says:

      Like all Silicon Valley start ups, Better Up is beholden to its investors who want to see their return. Whatever changes they “walked back” so as to not spook investors will reappear soon enough.

    • Sue E Generis says:

      This is late stage capitalism. It’s inevitable with any company that goes public.

  2. Polo says:

    I knew it wouldn’t be long before they did something like this. Someone on social media a few months ago was asking how they found Better up to be?
    Unfortunately with Harry’s status or anyone else but esp Harry (because of the vile BM) you become a target and there will always be an “anonymous source” willing to question your worth.

    Even if they do everything perfect someone will find a way to complain.
    Seems like the executives responsible are figuring it out.

    The haters keep trying Harry and everything attached to him…yet they keep failing and Harry keeps wining.

    • Huma says:

      Eliminating the stipend is not good though. However they don’t differ from any other Corp beholden to stock holders this kind of thing is often an issue lately. Bottom line over being a great company for employees and customers. Any almost every large company has the resources to keep providing an amazing product and keep treating employees very well but they all have stockholders voting in budget cuts for the shares to be worth more. Negatively affecting customers and or employees. Nothing special about this company (unless they actually Walk it back, that would be quite impressive). This situation reminds me of the russel brand video I saw on the Disney thing yesterday. Disney has one goal (profits) which is why every year they donate to both sides to keep their status.

  3. Eurydice says:

    I don’t know about “smoke and mirrors,” but clearly Harry was brought on because he was a client with international star power and believes in both the mission and the product. Maybe they’ve hired too many VPs, but lots of people can be a VP, and they can come and go – but there’s only one Harry.

    • Tessa says:

      That is exactly what smoke and mirrors refers to. Pay millions to a star to bring star power and attention, then nickel and dime people who actually work the daily grind. Bringing clients is fine and dandy, but supposedly, the service you offer is what will keep the clients sticking around, so it deserves to be compensated better than connections someone has been born with, no?

      • Gee says:

        No, Tessa. Why did you think the platform’s valuation tripled in such a short time? Harry’s star power and his commitments to advocating on mental health provides ethos to the company. That ethos, is invaluable to startups.

  4. equality says:

    I can see not wanting to be rated by a client but there has to be some way of evaluating for effectiveness and to be sure there is no abuse of clients.

    • Huma says:

      It’s an interesting point the life coach made, I think the problem is that not all clients are alike. Some would rate a coach doing a great job 5/5 and some wouldn’t because they don’t like the criticism or growth pains. At the same time some coaches may not be great at their jobs and different clients would either see that clearly or feel encouraged and happy even if technically the coach is not leading them down the right path/addressing the issues ideally.

    • WellAnyway says:

      I do BetterUp, because my company invested in it for its leaders. The rating system is a joke and annoying. Not all sessions will be “life changing” and there won’t be substantial changes every week to judge whether my team is “thriving” and “adapting”’to them- the way that question is worded is so loaded and leaning. It’s very obvious that they scrutinize their coaches’ performance and I figured it had to do is their pay. That’s why I rate each session a “10”- I like the guy. But, no, these sessions are not mind blowing.

      Also, they need to focus on their tech platform. Their audio/video absolutely sucks. And, they’re cancellation policy sucks. I had to cancel once at the last minute because of a death in the family and because of that, 25 min was taken from my “bank”. Since my company pays, I don’t care, but that was ridiculous. Sometimes, life happens- a “life changing” coaching organization should know that.

    • Charm says:

      Seems that BetterUp needs an overhaul of the coaches they hire. Confidentiality is a missing chip from the bozos that spk wth Beast.

      • Tessa says:

        seriously? Given the details in the article and what WellAnyway shared, your biggest concern with this article is the fact that coaches dared to speak up about their problems?

  5. beff says:

    I read that piece earlier this week and I have mixed feelings.
    #1 – it’s clearly a hit-piece against PH.
    #2 – I think the article said it interviewed 6 coaches out of 300? Correct me if I’m wrong.
    #3 – I totally understand that it’s not a popularity contest, but if you’re not liked by your clients (is this the right term?), are you actually helping them?
    #4 – I plan to present this program to my boss to see if she’s interested in offering this as a benefit.

    • SarahCS says:

      I coach people (in business, not for mental health) and coach chemistry is critical. If you’re not right for someone, or poor at your job, you and your employer (if there is one) need to know about it. Might some people be vindictive? Sure, but why are they being like that? Get the feedback and get to the bottom of it.

    • kirk says:

      #2 – 6 coaches out of 2,000.

      It’s interesting concept born during physical-distancing pandemic era, so there are definitely going to be growing pains. Would like to try it, but recently retired. Previously only used ComPsych employee-assistance program and got paired up with local social worker for limited # of sessions.

  6. Susan says:

    Honestly, i hear stories like this almost every day. In many industries. It’s not just HU, its not just Harry, its systemic. I firmly believe we are in the midst of massive social, economic and business change. We are just in the eye of the hurricane and can’t see it. The exact thing has been happening in my health system in which I work.

  7. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I wish my husband’s former company had the balls to walk shit back. Ownership change, destroy lives and families, mass exodus. Quite shameful.

  8. SH says:

    I thought the CEO was honest about their reason for hiring Harry on the recent podcast. The growth of the company is determined by how many people and companies are willing to participate in this type of coaching. So just like Harry did as far as the Heads Together campaign in trying to reduce stigma by sharing that he went to therapy this job is similar. Now this is different because the company has commercial goals and a lot of outside investment. It’s not purely altruistic, but it is not selling cigarettes either.

  9. Noki says:

    ‘there are questions (from the coaches) about how “meaningful” Harry’s role is, or whether it’s all “smoke and mirrors.”

    I have not read what Harrys job description is but i can understand if it is a nice package and he is essentially ‘not qualified’ or has the right education ,there could be some resentment.

    • Huma says:

      Obviously he does not have the industry experience of the people he works with, however due to his fame and openness about emotions he is a great spokesperson probably worth whatever they pay him. I think it’s odd that they don’t call him a spokesperson or ambassador. Does he actually have a corporate job or do men not like those titles (spokesperson/ambassador) or do people not feel comfortable with men having those titles because they are «light » and image based which only suits a woman if you’re sexist

    • Me says:

      How is this Harry’s fault??

    • Athena says:

      Harry doesn’t need a PhD in psycho babble to do his job and his education is not the sort gained sitting in a classroom. His job is to bring in business and if he is doing that he’s doing his job. Better up had to hire more coaches because business is growing. The company must be able to evaluate these coaches. I understand the complaint, that some clients will blame the messenger but what struck me is that I would expect these coaches to offer some solutions, not just complain, so how good are these six at their coaching jobs?

      • Charm says:

        This is one occasion when i would applaud an organization for going after snitches. Seems to me that the Beast wasnt interested in the actual matter at hand, just wanted to pump these gullible ‘coaches’ to find out if they had info abt H to share.

        Clearly these ‘coaches’ are unaware of the volume of biz H has brought in so far which has allowed them to be employed.

        Perhaps BetterUp needs to up their internal PR.

    • MsIam says:

      “there are questions (from the coaches) about how “meaningful” Harry’s role is, or whether it’s all “smoke and mirrors.”

      If the company’s value increased due to Harry being hired and they’ve had to contract more coaches, I’d say that’s pretty meaningful. I’m sure the company’s name awareness has skyrocketed since they hired Harry and the affiliation with Invictus games has given it more exposure. So whoever is asking questions about how meaningful Harry’s hire has been is dumb. Since these are unattributed comments who knows if they are even true.

    • Gee says:

      His role is essentially sales and marketing + advocacy. If these ‘coaches’ have an issue, they should take it up with the founder. Not stand around bitching and whining about how life is ‘unfair’. Bc what most startups need the most – especially in such intangible results driven platforms – is exposure.

      • Sophie says:

        To me the whole article is about how they are taking their problems up to the executives, Harry was only mentioned by one of them as a side note. The rating system sounds a shambles. So I hope they really walk all of it back.

  10. Connie says:

    England is drowning. The monarchy has no money. The press is aware of this. They can’t take their frustration out on the monarchy. So the queens hands over the Sussex! I can’t wait for PC native Canadian tour. All those orphans bodies discovered last summer and 🤐 from that family. They toppled QE,QV statues. They’ll use crisis actors that family is evil. I know it and a lot of you know it.

    • Southern Fried says:

      Connie, I don’t understand the monarchy having no money.

    • Sue E Generis says:

      Sorry, but this isn’t true. The monarchy haas no money on paper. The queen is actually worth billions and Charles hundreds of millions personally.

      • Charm says:

        Its the other way around: they do have assets on paper but are cash poor. Thats why they were so grateful to H when he paid them the full amount for what betty spent on renovating Frogmore (which was her DUTY & RESPONSIBILITY to take care of heritage sites like that); and also why they were so grateful that he paid his lease several years in advance.

      • equality says:

        @Charm My understanding is that the money for properties is handled by a firm that manages crown property (that not actually owned by the Queen). It’s separate from operating expenses for the royals.

  11. Noodle says:

    I work at a university and our merit raises each year are dependent on student opinion surveys. The surveys are optional and there are two types of students who review you: the ones who love you and think you walk on water, and those who hate you and wish you would fall in the water and drown. I imagine BU’s surveys follow the same rationale, and it’s an invalid way of measuring someone’s worth. Also, it makes me think about the size of the sample. My courses have 25-30 students, and it’s not unusual for me to get 3 surveys returned. How you can judge someone’s practice with only a 10% return rate is beyond me. There has to be a better way.

    • equality says:

      In the case of a university I would think there are more objective ways to measure such as how well students do on tests and papers/projects or someone could observe classes.

      • TeamAwesome says:

        Yeah, you would think. I assure you it doesn’t matter how many Dean of this or that there is on a college campus, absolutely NO ONE is coming over to observe teaching. My system is looking at raises based on students’ grades and completion rates. Students that come to less than 50% of classes aren’t going to be making A’s, but that reflects on my teaching, not their actual attendance and effort.

    • ConcernFae says:

      There is also the very real problem of the fact that women and minorities get lower ratings than white men. They did a test using online classes where peoples interactions with the professor’s teaching assistants were all through text and email. The researchers had the TAs swap names with someone of the opposite gender for half the students. Turns out the women got better ratings when they were “men.” The men got lower ratings if the students thought they were a woman.

      Basing any sort of monetary or career consequences on ratings sucks.

  12. L4Frimaire says:

    This is the travails of business. There will always be unhappy employees and decisions that affect employee moral, and the business needs to respond. It’s not always going to go well. Netflix is going through some fluctuations as well and just laid off a ton of recently hired creatives, many of them POCs. Having a very visible person like Harry on board, who has a heatscore, is going to bring more visibility, more investment, but also more scrutiny, especially with rapid growth.

  13. equality says:

    BM when BetterUp was doing well and expanding: “it has nothing to do with PH”. When BetterUp has an issue: “All PH’s fault”. Spotify business goes up: “Nothing to do with PH”. Netflix stock goes down: “It’s because they signed H&M”. They are consistently inconsistent.

    • L4Frimaire says:

      Exactly this! They never want to give him credit but certainly lay all the blame. Let’s get some perspective. Harry knows first hand that sometimes things don’t go smoothly and you have to pivot and respond

  14. KT says:

    @Connie Not orphans. Children who were taken away from their families to be educated in the colonial system. Some as young as 3yo. The families never knew what happened to their children. Curious to see if PC addresses this on the Canadian tour.

  15. Jaded says:

    Consider who founded the Daily Beast — Tina Brown. She was founding editor-in-chief from 2008 to 2013. I’m sure she still has her tentacles in it and any way of bashing Harry is red meat to her and her ilk.