Top of the Month: Airbnb CEO gets 'human' tone right amid redundancies

It's not often a chief executive receives positive feedback after announcing a 25 per cent cut in their company's workforce.

But Airbnb's Brian Chesky's honest, thorough and above all 'human' statement to employees is among the best examples of how a corporation should deliver redundancy news.

The message, delivered direct to employees then published an open letter on 5 May, is heartfelt and straightforward, and lacking the kind of impersonal euphemisms ('downsizing', 'strategic realignment') that are particualarly jarring in such times.

"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," Chesky says.

"When you’ve asked me about layoffs, I’ve said that nothing is off the table. Today, I must confirm that we are reducing the size of the Airbnb workforce. For a company like us whose mission is centered around belonging, this is incredibly difficult to confront, and it will be even harder for those who have to leave Airbnb."

There's a sense of transparency throughout. The CEO outlines actions that have been taken to avoid redundancies, including raising $2bn in capital and "dramatically" cutting costs. He says more action is needed because "we don’t know exactly when travel will return" and "when travel does return, it will look different".

Chesky highlights how the crisis has forced Airbnb to get "back to the basics" with a "sharper focus", and details what this means for the business.

The message also outlines measures to help those faced with redundancy, including extended healthcare assistance, the granting of shares for all current staff, and assistance with job-hunting, including the services of a career transition firm, alumni support and placement schemes.

Staff are told they can keep company laptops; a seemingly small gesture, but one that suggests Chesky is thinking about the direct practical impact on the people affected.

The open letter ends on a particularly personal note, saying that "even in the worst of circumstances, I’ve seen the very best of us".

"I have a deep feeling of love for all of you," he adds. "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 centre of belonging is love."

Addressing the 1,900 staff who will be leaving, Chesky's message is especially personal: "I am truly sorry. Please know this is not your fault. The world will never stop seeking the qualities and talents that you brought to Airbnb… that helped make Airbnb. I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing them with us."

With companies in the spotlight more than ever over their treatment of employees, Chesky's approach is a model for those business leaders for whom the dreaded redundancy announcement now appears sadly inevitable.


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