Laying off employees is hard.
But doing so during a disrupted global economy, amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic — where things are uncertain, scary, and stressful — well, that can be really truly heartbreaking.
How a company breaks the news of an impending layoff will define its very story and essence.
Airbnb, for example, recently announced that they’re going to lay off 1,900 employees. And what struck me most about Airbnb’s layoff — as both a content marketer and an employee of a company — is the note sent out to employees by Co-Founder and CEO, Brian Chesky.
I identified 5 important aspects in the note that helped Chesky deliver his message in a clear and compassionate way. I’ve also summarised the general flow of his message at the end of this post. Read on…
1. Personal intro with a clear purpose
Chesky starts his note by saying that, “This is my seventh time talking to you from my house”. This makes me feel that he cares about his employees enough to remember how many times he’s addressed them during this period.
Then he gets to the point — he has some very sad news to share.
He confirms that a layoff is happening.
He brings up the company mission of being centred around belonging, which then sets the tone for his message. And he also lists out briefly what he’ll be covering, so the purpose and contents of his note are clear.
2. The What, Why, and Hows of the situation are explained in a transparent manner
The first few responsive questions that usually come to mind when you’re surprised are…
And this is just plain ol’ human nature, where you want to know the reason behind things.
So in the top part of his note, Chesky goes straight into answering these basic questions:
- What’s going on?
- How did it come to this?
- Why are we making this decision?
- How did we make this decision?
He first explains what’s been going on during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and how it has affected global travel — which in turn, affected Airbnb as well. He also briefly describes what the company initially did in response to this.
He then continues on to mention how the company came to the conclusion of “reducing the size of our workforce around a more focused business strategy”.
And he takes it a step further by expanding on the rather vague “focused business strategy” phrase.
Next he goes on to listing down the considerations made during the decision-making phase:
And he ends his explanation of the entire situation with a description of how the reduction was decided.
All in all, this gives even an outsider like me a clear understanding of the company’s situation from the beginning up to the point of the layoff decision.
3. A clear action plan for laid off employees
Not knowing is the worst kind of feeling.
So I like that Chesky points out in advance that he wants to provide clarity to all his employees as soon as possible, while also taking into consideration the fact that they employ people in 24 countries, all of which have different laws and practices on notifications about employment.
In his note, he gives a clear breakdown of what will happen next:
- when employees will be informed of their employment status
- how employees will be informed of their employment status
- who will inform employees of their employment status
- how employees can reach him directly — through a scheduled CEO Q&A session
I’d also like to point out a small thing he did in his note that makes a difference in terms of having your message sound more down-to-earth and kind vs. professional and cold.
Simple, conversational language.
By just using “take care of” instead of formal business jargon like “an employee severance package”, Chesky manages to add a bit more heart into his message.
A little bit of care goes a long way.
4. Going the extra mile
Talk is cheap.
So if you say that you care about your employees — show them.
Show your past, current, and future employees who you are as a company.
Especially in trying times like this.
I was pretty impressed with what Airbnb put together for their laid off staff.
- Healthcare (includes mental health support)
- Job support
The job support section, in particular, really shows that they care as a company. In his note, Chesky lists down FIVE ways how Airbnb is going to help their soon-to-be former employees get back on their feet:
5. A simple, personalised sign off
That’s all Chesky ends his letter with — Brian.
No full name, no title. Nothing.
And to me, this is what wraps up his letter on a more personal note.
All in all, I appreciate how this note was written. It was clear, comprehensive, and heartfelt enough without being too fluffy.
We’re all in this storm together, but in different boats.
So these 5 learnings from Chesky’s note can really help you craft a clear and compassionate message to others in a time when everyone needs a little more care, clarity, and direction.
Here’s the summarised breakdown of Brian Chesky’s message to the Airbnb employees:
- Acknowledgement of layoff
- Company mission
- List of what will be covered in the note
- What’s happening?
- How is this affecting the company?
- What was the conclusion?
- Why was the decision made?
- What was the decision-making process?
For the laid off employees
- Details of severance, equity, healthcare, and job support
What will happen next
- Details of how employees will know if they stay or are getting laid off
- CEO Q&A session
- Words of gratitude
- Reiteration of the company mission
- Note for those staying
- Note for those leaving
Do read the entire note and let me know what you think of it!
This article first appeared on Medium.