Airbnb CEO Delivers Empathetic, Transparent Message Regarding Layoffs

As of today, 33.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment. And it appears no one, even global tech and service companies, are immune to the economic downturn.

On May 5, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky sent a message to employees, also made available for public viewing on the company’s blog, outlining the economic state of Airbnb and where it needed to go next. Unfortunately, that included layoffs. Twenty-five percent of Airbnb’s workforce, or 1,900 people out of the company’s 7,500 total staff, lost their jobs. Yet Chesky delivered the news in a way that should make most CEOs and their communications departments take notice.

The 3,374-word letter addressed employees with an empathetic tone, showcasing a passion for the company and care for the workforce. It included not only a detailed background into the financials of the company, but a description of how it came to the decision to make reductions.


Clarity and Benefits

The message also included clear language regarding severance (a hefty 14-week package of base pay, plus one additional week for every year at Airbnb), equity (waving service time requirements; now every employee is a shareholder), healthcare (all employees receive 12 months paid health insurance), and tools available for job support.

The letter also describes what will happen after the announcement, and how employees will receive their notice. Here Chesky outlines the plan for employees in the United States and Canada, with more information forthcoming regarding other countries after town-hall style meetings.

Gratitude and Inspiration

Chesky’s final words really stay with the recipient. He expresses gratitude and inspiration acquired through his employees. He acknowledges the original company motto and how it applies to the work they have done.

“Our mission is not merely about travel. When we started Airbnb, our original tagline was, 'Travel like a human.' The human part was always more important than the travel part. What we are about is belonging, and at the center of belonging is love.”

He also addresses those staying and those leaving separately, placing importance on those leaving and letting them know their departure is not their fault.

Respect and Courtesy

Communicating layoffs certainly is one of the hardest parts of the job for any CEO, human resources manager or PR professional. But Chesky provided a masterclass in how to address employees with respect and courtesy, making each one feel valued as individuals and simultaneously part of  the Airbnb family. This approach finds favor rather than surprising individuals with layoff calls, or deleting all appointments on an employee’s calendar without notice, creating a culture of fear and disrespect.

And employees, although certainly distressed after hearing the news, took to social media to express their gratitude for the thorough messaging, making them some of the brand’s most certifiable ambassadors. With all of the offers for job leads, social media is currently former Airbnb employees' greatest networking tool.

As Gil Bashe, managing partner, global health at Finn Partners, said in a PRNEWS article about  communicating layoffs during the pandemic:

“No one is to blame for the business challenges with COVID-19. Kindness and thoughtfulness of what’s next for these people is part of being human…Leadership often starts with the thought, ‘What if this were me?’”

Looks like Chesky followed this philosophy successfully.

This article is part of PRNEWS' ongoing daily COVID-19 coverage