Airbnb's Layoffs: How to Let Employees Go the Right Way

Jennifer Moukouma
Jennifer Moukouma
Chief Marketing Officer @ NUMA
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Bird, Lyft, Uber, Airbnb… companies had to layoff many employees while facing the crisis due to COVID-19. These companies knowing an exponential growth are part of the same generation and may seem very similar, but one major difference remains: the company culture. Their different management of massive layoffs once again proved it.

Let’s take a look at Airbnb's communication

  • Airbnb’s CEO decides to embody the sad news: while Uber records a 3min message to avoid having a tough conversation, Brian Chesky takes the lead and undertakes his role. As a captain who had to take a difficult decision, he chooses to write a detailed email to every employees.
  • This communication copes with his communication rituals:  “This is my seventh time talking to you from my house. Each time we’ve talked, I’ve shared good news and bad news, but today I have to share some very sad news.”
  • Brian Chesky has a word for the ones leaving the company, but also the ones remaining: He highlights the skills of each employee that allowed Airbnb to become what it is today: “Please know this is not your fault.” Brian Chesky fosters engagement among the ones staying, to carry on with the work initiated before the crisis.
  • Airbnb draws a precise and useful plan for the employees laid off: The company knows the major difficulties for someone losing his job: stay afloat and find another job. Hence, some solutions were found to help them in this transition: coaching, personal computers and an extended severance. 

Main takeaways from Brian Chesky’s leadership

We were truly inspired by Brian’s communication in such circumstances. He teaches us a lot about this new generation of leaders who stick with their teams no matter what. Here are our key learnings: 

  • Be brave: undertake every decision taken, especially the the tough ones, and embody them. Brian Chesky does it very well by being sincere and open hearted.
  • Be transparent: in hard times, workers expect to be aware of the decisions taken but above all they need to understand the motives. It is important to be clear and stick to the facts and metrics. Brian Chesky does his best to be as transparent as possible when questions remain unanswered: “Wait to communicate any decisions until all details are landed — transparency of only partial information can make matters worse. I have done my best to stay true to these principles.” 
  • Stay human-centric: Brian Chesky knows it, people build the company: they shouldn’t work for their leader but hands in hands with him. He stands for this principle by expressing his gratitude and dedicating 80% of his email to Airbnb’s employees. He is so direct that his sincerity can’t be called into questions.  
  • Be concrete: Bring solutions and explain what happens next. Brian Chesky takes some time to tackle the next steps: one on one meetings and a plan to support the transition.
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