Compassionate layoff — Airbnb shows the way

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease has devastated businesses across the globe. The spread of the deadly virus pushed many into bankruptcy, as revenue sources dried up and working capital depleted. The travel & hospitality sector was worse-hit.

As the crisis unfolded, businesses were thrust into a situation where they had to either shut down or push hard to survive. Unable to withstand the impact, numerous companies winded up. Most managed to stay afloat but their survival still hinges on several factors. Certainly, it doesn’t look easy.

As a last resort, organisations began to cut workforce/furlough employees. However, this decision came with huge emotional and psychological costs; thousands of affected employees slipped into depression as they lost their only livelihood. Allegations of poor handling of layoff surfaced in several markets, which further added to their misery.

Unavailability of new opportunities has badly affected the mental health of the disgruntled workforce.

As the situation exacerbated, one thing became loud and clear: empathy and compassion were in short supply. Most organisations didn’t even bother to take into account the massive psychological impact the layoffs could make on people.

Experts have time and again emphasised the importance of compassion at the time of crisis like this. A compassionate approach to retrenchment could have made a difference to the lives of employees and even the organisations themselves but many ignored this part.

This is where Airbnb‘s simple, yet creative way is winning the hearts. The short-stay accommodation booking honcho, while announcing the layoffs, allowed employees to leave with grace.

The accommodation booking giant firm laid off about 1,900 employees workforce, or a quarter of its workforce last week. While taking this tough step, Airbnb did something unusual: it posted the talent directory (the names and profiles of the retrenched employees) with a carefully-drafted note on LinkedIn.

“To support teammates departing Airbnb, we’ve launched an Alumni Talent Directory. Please click here if you’re currently hiring or looking for incredible talent:
We hope we can connect these individuals with new opportunities. It’s been an honor to work with such a talented team committed to our mission of belonging, and we’re confident any company would be lucky to have them”.

“What a great example of leadership and HR skills. Kudos for transparency, ownership and empathy when managing a large-scale involuntary employee exit 👏”, reads a comment to the post.

Another LinkedIn member said, “This speaks volumes! Great job for creating a new best practice! Love this talent directory!!!”

Setting an example

Airbnb, known for its appreciable work culture, is showing the world what it means to be sympathetic and compassionate.

According to well-known angel investor Arnaud Bonzom, Airbnb’s talent directory is a ‘best practice’ if former employees can opt-in and opt-out at any point of time, which it seems to be the case.

“When I accessed the directory for the first time on May 8th, only one profile was listed in Singapore,” he told me.

“As of today, on May 14th, it’s 43 talents. Also, you can read this mention on the bottom of their website: ‘To manage your talent directory profile, please email’”

“Such directory,” Bonzom continued, “will give the former employees more visibility and will increase their likelihood to secure a new position in a shorter period of time.”

Bonzom has already recommended the resources to several of his portfolio companies. He is even using it personally to look for a designer for a short-term assignment, he said.

Indeed, Airbnb was not the first to create and publish a talent directory. Down east, Singapore-based HOOQ published a similar directory to boost the chances of retrenched employees.

Another example came from a group of VC firms in Southeast Asia, which include Saison Capital, FutureLab, Jungle Ventures, and Alpha JWC Ventures.

Together they launched a ‘community-led’ initiative — known as SEAriously Awesome People List – Startup COVID-19 Layoffs — in March to help retrenched startup employees find new opportunities.

“I think it’s a great practice assuming there’s buy-in from employees, which I think is so most of the time,” Chia Jeng Yang, Principal at Singapore-based Saison Capital, told me.

Yang is part of the team spearheading this novel initiative in the region.

“It’s a great way for companies to reduce any friction in the job market and help employees quickly find their next role as fast as possible. It is also easier for HR to find talent since it is quite common to be on the lookout from talent from large tech companies in the same industry,” added Yang.

As of yesterday, the initiative has approximately 1,000 talent registrations and 400 job posts.

Also Read: Going big? Then Go e27 Pro.

When the COVID-19 pandemic is lashing industries and causing job losses around the world, empathy and compassion become all the more important. If more organisations come forward to emulate this great practice, should help create a more compassionate world.

And as they say, kindness is contagious, and let this ‘contagion’ spread around the world.

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