The Covid-19 shutdowns have struck the travel industry, and so it's no surprise that Airbnb needs to lay off workers. What is surprising is the way Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky went about it. He released a letter to Airbnb staff, explaining the layoff. Here's what he did right.
Explains the situation
These are unusual times, and of course every Airbnb employee knows that the business is not doing well right now. Sometimes, you need to do a layoff even when the overall health of the company is excellent, but you need to take a different turn. Regardless, Chesky explains clearly:
Let me start with how we arrived at this decision. We are collectively living through the most harrowing crisis of our lifetime, and as it began to unfold, global travel came to a standstill. Airbnb's business has been hit hard, with revenue this year forecasted to be less than half of what we earned in 2019. In response, we raised $2 billion in capital and dramatically cut costs that touched nearly every corner of Airbnb.
He gives clear information and doesn't try to hide it. Don't try to hide what you're doing and why.
Gives information about the future
No one knows when the travel industry will recover. Airbnb, of course, hopes it will be sooner rather than later. When you lay people off, they often wish they will get their jobs back quickly--and that is sometimes the case. However, in many cases, those jobs are gone forever. Chesky gives the best information he has so people can plan their lives. He writes:
While we know Airbnb's business will fully recover, the changes it will undergo are not temporary or short-lived. Because of this, we need to make more fundamental changes to Airbnb by reducing the size of our workforce around a more focused business strategy.
The layoffs are targeted for the best business success. There's no mystery surrounding this.
This gives employees who leave an understanding of why they lost their jobs, but it also gives the remaining staff an understanding of where they stand. One of the problematic things around layoffs is that the "survivors" are on edge--not knowing if they'll be next. This clarifies things.
Explains the layoff procedures
Chesky gives his people actual numbers--25 percent of the workforce. This means that the affected employees don't feel they were targeted or are alone. They know it was a large group, and they could have done nothing differently.
He also goes through the details, including the length of severance ("14 weeks of base pay, plus one additional week for every year at Airbnb"), that they'll cover health insurance for 12 months for U.S. employees and through the end of 2020 for global employees, and that they will help their former employees find new jobs.
This way, no one receiving the bad news has to wonder if Airbnb is treating them fairly. They know what everyone else received. They are secure in this.
Not every company can afford generous severance packages like this, but if you can, let everyone know. Extending health insurance can be the most crucial aspect of terminations in these times.
It's not the employees' fault
You can walk out of a layoff meeting feeling like you are a failure. Chesky makes it clear that these employees are not failures. It was strictly a business decision brought on by outside forces. No one could have stopped the virus, and, therefore, no one is at fault.
Reminding employees that they are valued and capable and that you will help them find new employment goes a long way toward assisting an employee in moving forward.
This is an important message, not only for Airbnb employees but for anyone who may want to hire one of these people. You know that former Airbnb employees would still be working if it were not for the collapse of the travel industry.
If and when you have to lay people off, this is an excellent template for a message from senior management. Honest, straightforward, and compassionate. Layoffs are always hard. This makes it a little easier.