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Employer Case study: Airbnb

How Airbnb turns a crisis into an opportunity to shine as an employer brand. This global pandemic hit the travel and hospitality industry hard, resulting in layoffs of thousands of employees in addition to putting all hiring on hold for an indefinite time.

How Airbnb turns a crisis into an opportunity to shine as an employer brand

This global pandemic hit the travel and hospitality industry hard, resulting in layoffs of thousands of employees in addition to putting all hiring on hold for an indefinite time.

Though travel companies may not be able to bring customers, clients or jobs back right now, they do have the power, and the responsibility, to help the people through the painful process of losing their jobs.

Open Letter from Airbnb Founder

In May 2020, Airbnb co-founder and Chair Brian Chesky wrote a lengthy open letter to his employees. In it, he spoke directly about how and why huge layoffs were imminent and what that would mean for them.

Take a few moments to read through the letter. It contains a lot of information, but its impact lies in the many ways it conveys that difficult message.

It’s publicly available: Layoffs at any time will impact how others think of your organization, and that matters, even if your company is not publicly traded. It only takes one disgruntled employee leaking a confidential letter to create a reputational crisis.

It gets to the point: Though the entire letter is nearly 1,700 words long, Brian wastes no time in getting to the important message: that layoffs are happening. In this situation, striving to be as direct as possible could be viewed as an act of compassion.

It sets the context: By laying out the specific damage that Covid-19 has done to Airbnb’s revenue and what he calls the “two hard truths,” Brian is giving a glimpse behind the curtain of the decision-making process.

It outlines the new strategy: After he explains Airbnb’s business situation, Brian explains how the new strategy will be adapted to suit. He’s walking employees through the steps that have led him and the leadership team to make the decision to lay people off.

It goes into detail on the layoff strategy: Brian lists the guiding principles for the layoff process. He is presenting the standard against which he expects to be judged. This demonstrates a commitment to accountability. He is saying, “I want to live up to these values. If I don’t, you will know, and I want you to judge for yourself.”

It lays out next steps in detail: One of the most debilitating psychological impacts of the current global pandemic is the uncertainty. For many, anxiety over job security is top of mind, even at companies where layoffs haven’t so far happened. In the letter, Brian does what he can to eliminate ambiguity, even going so far as to specify details like meeting invitation subject lines.

Share your views

  • What did you think of Brian’s letter?
  • How did it make you feel about Airbnb as an employer?
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