Airbnb creates a new listing: its laid-off workers
SAN FRANCISCO - When Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky announced in early May that he had to lay off a quarter of his workforce, he offered an unusual severance benefit.
In a 1,694-word note to employees, posted shortly thereafter on the company's blog, Chesky said he wanted to help departing employees find new jobs by launching an opt-in "alumni talent directory," with profiles, résumés and work samples. As part of the placement effort, he also promised that Airbnb would redeploy a "significant portion" of its recruiters to spend the rest of the year helping 1,900 laid-off employees find a new place to work.
In a statement, Airbnb's vice president of employee experience, Beth Axelrod, said the directory has already been viewed 350,000 times and Airbnb has seen significant interest from tech giants, smaller start-ups, and companies outside tech. Axelrod said hiring CEOs have reached out directly to Chesky and other Airbnb executives, and workers are being approached.
The layoffs at Airbnb are part of a wave of job cuts in Silicon Valley, following weeks of mass layoffs in lower-wage jobs at restaurants and in stores around the nation. Smaller tech start-ups have laid off 47,500 people since mid-March, according to Layoffs.fyi, a website tracking job loss in tech. In recent weeks, Uber laid off 3,700 workers and Lyft laid off 982. On Tuesday, the Information reported that Uber is planning on laying off several thousand more. Uber declined to comment.
Chesky and other tech executives have also taken a novel approach amid historic layoffs: investing internal resources to help laid-off workers join other companies, including competitors.
That's a twist, because for decades, Silicon Valley's competition for technical talent has left few holds barred - from stringent noncompete agreements to six-figure signing bonuses that are clawed back if the employee leaves too soon. In the early aughts, attempts to poach top engineers got so costly that Apple, Google, Intuit, and Adobe agreed not to hire one another's prized employees, eventually paying a $400 million settlement after the Justice Department sued the companies for conspiring to drive down wages.
When Google's former head of communication, Jessica Powell, satirized the industry in her 2019 novel "The Big Disruption," she focused on a massive search company launching world-changing projects not to surveil consumers or consolidate power, but to keep its engineers from being lured away by a sexier social networking start-up.
The thinly veiled tech giants in Powell's book are still in growth mode. Facebook said it would hire 10,000 workers by the end of the year. Google said it's slowing hiring in some areas - although it will continue to grow. Industry observers expect Big Tech to grow more powerful as those companies scoop up the best talent.
But now, as the pandemic rages on, tech companies hardest hit by stay-at-home orders are deploying resources to formalize the kind of help usually offered by colleagues and friends. Airbnb's Axelrod said that the company's directory mirrors grass-roots efforts at other companies, where a group creates a spreadsheet of people looking for work.
Uber, which once threatened drivers who wanted to work for Lyft, developed a website for independent contractors to find new gigs, including directing drivers to Amazon, its rival in both logistics and food delivery. Lyft has referred drivers to Amazon.
Following Chesky's announcement, Uber decided to launch its own online directory for white-collar workers "to give our former colleagues the attention from recruiters they deserve," said Uber spokesperson Lois Van Der Laan.
Invitations and ticketing company Eventbrite's chief executive told The Washington Post that she referred employees to Facebook. Eventbrite is also connecting affected employees with opportunities at Amazon, PayPal, Netflix and DoorDash, as well as small start-ups, and says some have already been hired.
Meanwhile, e-scooter start-up Bird, which was publicly skewered in March for laying off 30% of its employees via a one-way Zoom, now says it is having its human resources department help with résumé reviews, interview role-playing, and other job-seeking efforts, according to its vice president of global human resources, Kerry Fischer. The company has also hired back a few of the laid-off workers.
The chief executive of Carta, a high-profile Palo Alto start-up that helps investors, founders, and employees manage equity shares in a company, wrote a note very similar to Chesky's a month earlier, which won plaudits around the Bay Area. Carta's top executive, Henry Ward, told workers who were laid off that he would create an alumni Slack group where both Carta and former employees could post job listings.
"I hope that, as our business recovers, we will get to hire many of you back," Ward wrote in the note, which was later posted on Medium. He asked former employees to post jobs where they work, too. "I will be active in this channel as will our People team to help all of you go on to do great things."
Carta declined a request for an interview.
Three former Airbnb employees impacted by the cuts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the company's practices, told The Post they were grateful to be able to appear in the directory and have already received messages about potential openings.
One former product manager in the Bay Area said she wants to be fast-tracked for reentry when Airbnb starts staffing up again, which is partly why she agreed to post her profile in the talent directory.
The spotlight on Airbnb has also prompted debate about how layoffs in the tech sector can reinforce Silicon Valley's hierarchies.
Airbnb, like nearly all tech companies, uses white-collar contractors who perform similar office work as full-time employees, but for lower pay, no equity and fewer privileges. In late April, Chesky laid off all of Airbnb's contingent workers, who received a week's severance and their laptop, according to two former Airbnb contractors affected by the layoffs.
In contrast, full-time workers received 12 months of insurance through COBRA, at least 14 weeks of base pay, fewer restrictions on equity and the option to keep their laptop.
In a public post on LinkedIn, Amy Silverman, one of the affected Airbnb contractors, estimated that roughly 500 to 600 contractors were also let go and were not invited to join the directory. "Many of us worked at Airbnb for several years," Silverman wrote. "Right now we are invisible." Silverman declined to comment.
On Thursday, Chesky announced during his weekly Q&A with employees that Airbnb was working on adding contractors to the directory.
Silicon Valley leaders are not always known for following through on their stated good intentions. (The display name for a popular Twitter parody account about venture capitalists is, "let me know how i can be helpful" - the joke being that the kind of help elite investors can offer is already obvious.)
At least in Airbnb's case, the company's offered help seemed sincere to the laid-off employees. Airbnb provided them a week to gather their things, set up email addresses and get their things in order.
That's different from what typically happens, the former Airbnb product manager said.
"You join a company and you feel like you believe in the mission, believe in their cause, and then you realize it's a load of crap," the product manager said. "You were an employee, you were there for however many years, sometimes you worked weekends, you had crazy deadlines, and within an hour it's done."