How 4 major companies handled layoffs during pandemic?

And what can we learn from them


Beril Kocadereli

3 years ago | 6 min read

Ok, the topic itself does not shout unicorns and rainbows. It’s not news that during the pandemic, companies are engaging in mass layouts to save their companies.

Some are ugly and others are uglier.

However, we can make the most of it and learn from them.


Toshifumi Kitamura by Getty Images
Toshifumi Kitamura by Getty Images

Airbnb survived the layoffs with flying stars and won the hearts of many. The CEO sent a message for the laid-off employees which is now public. If you had a chance to read it, you might have sensed how much they care.

First, the CEO acknowledged the value of people they had to let go of. Secondly, he admitted the uncertainties they were facing and showed his sincerity admitting their shortcomings.

Moreover, he was empathetic and offered help in the ways he could. He granted access to laid-off employees:

  • Alumni Talent Directory — It is a website to help the leaving teammates find new jobs. When they pool them into a platform, it is easier to manage.
  • Alumni Placement Team — For the remainder of 2020, a significant portion of Airbnb Recruiting is announced to work as an Alumni Placement Team. That means recruiters that are staying with Airbnb will provide support to departing employees to help them find their next job. It sounds like it is too good to be true.
  • RiseSmart — It involves four months of career services through a company that specializes in career transition and job placement services.
  • Employee Offered Alumni Support — This is for all remaining employees to join a program to assist departing teammates to find their next role.
  • Laptops — They allowed everyone leaving to keep their Apple laptops. Just like a good place to work scoreboards, there should be a good place to leave.

The company really made an effort to lead with transparency. They showed they care and made those leaving feel supported and those staying feel proud to be working there.

It is relieving to see such examples -wait until you scroll down and you will appreciate them too.

Airbnb recently launched what they call Online Experiences on their website, where customers pay to watch people make origami, produce cheese, and take dancing lessons or any other activity.

It is a way to keep the cash flowing and help the company survive the pandemic.

One thing I didn’t get is the wine tasting though, I wouldn’t pay to watch people drink and talk about how good it is but maybe you will. That initiative combined with the $1 billion they recently secured in April will keep them going.


Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash
Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Nobody used car services for a while. Where would anyone go when the world stopped and we all stayed at home?

Consequently, Uber lost $2.9 billion in the first quarter of 2020, its biggest loss in three quarters. The CFO Nelson Chai told investors “The reality is the world has changed”.

This resulted in the company cutting 14% of its workforce laying out around 4000 jobs. The CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced he will forego his $1 million this year. I would call this leading by example.

Let’s admit it, it wouldn’t affect him much anyway.

Many airline CEO’s also take pay-cuts including United Airlines, Delta Airlines, and JetBlue Airways.

Some employees formed a list of ex-Uber employees called Uber Alumni to help people find new jobs and ease the stress a little bit. It is great to see people helping each other out this way.

A twist in the story. Even though the ride-hailing business fell, bookings in the Uber Eats division were up more than 54 percent year over year, thanks to increased demand for food deliveries.

This shows the importance of having side businesses, what you invest in aside from your core competency could save you the next day. In the case of Uber, it is the food business the company entered in August 2014 and is continuing to grow.

Khosrowshahi announced it might not be all bad with the pandemic:

“There is a silver lining to this unbelievably tragic Covid virus, which is that the business we have of Eats, and the category in general, just looked like it is going to be substantially increased — some would say by multiples.”

The company is getting ready for the next phase of recovery, including adding extra measures to its ride business such as making the drivers wear face masks and some other precautions.

It is expected that they will announce what they are exactly in the following weeks. It is important to be proactive and adapt fast to situations, including the pandemic. If they are to fall behind during this period, it might cost to their survival.


Photo by Editorial Team on Silicon Canals
Photo by Editorial Team on Silicon Canals

Well, this one is an example of what not to do when laying people off. I don’t like to believe we live in a world where over 400 employees were fired in a 2-minute Zoom meeting, “Black Mirror” style.

It wasn’t the CEO who did it, but a disembodied voice read a script informing the employees that they’ve been laid off while their accounts were shut off immediately. It’s like a dream, but one you want to wake up from.

What we can learn from it?

It is not only what you do but how you do it. Airbnb’s CEO showed us that.

Why not take the time to explain everything, show your appreciation to people, and answer any question they might have?

More importantly, why not deliver the bad news yourself? It could be a good strategy to let good news delivered by others, but that doesn’t apply for the bad news.

Reputation is everything and it is so much more than the valuation. I believe they would be better off if they lost more money, then they are after this unforgettable inhuman act.


Photo by Brandon Hooper on Unsplash
Photo by Brandon Hooper on Unsplash

Even though the company is affected hugely by the pandemic, its layoffs are attempts to put together what is already broken in the company. So let’s learn from them.

A failed IPO in October 2019, a ridiculously overvalued company $47 billion to be exact, combined with an irresponsible CEO…

That would not be the best combination for business. The new CEO Sandeep Mathrani, as of February 2020, is trying to undo the damage of Neumann’s.

Let’s say the former was not your ideal CEO who sold his own company the name “We” in the WeWork for $6 million or entered the wave-pool business out of his love for surfing.

With the same logic, because I love cheese, should I invest in it? For the record, don’t fool your company or your board or no one in general. He stepped down as CEO due to “intense public scrutiny” that has become a distraction in running the firm. I would be distracted too.

WeWork wanted to give the impression that it no longer strived to be viewed as a tech company but rather as a real estate with the new CEO.

Why was it viewed as a tech company in the first place anyway? No one knows. However, the company could not get to see his effect as the pandemic hit right after he sat on the chair.

The office-sharing business is hit tremendously as fewer people work in offices. Sandeep warned staff weeks ago that more jobs would be lost on top of the 2,400 eliminated in 2019 and 250 more in March.

As of April, SoftBank’s CEO said its $9 billion bets on WeWork and Adam Neumann was a mistake.

The CEO is optimistic though, “We’re now confident that we put in new management, a new plan and we’re going to turn it around and make a decent return”.

Their future will tell if a company will be able to succeed despite consecutive prior wrong decisions, a CEO change, board members quitting after another, bosses frequently sleeping with subordinates, and finally a pandemic. This seems like a rare combination to me.

This article was originally published by Beril Kocadereli on medium.


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Beril Kocadereli

A tech enthusiast interested in innovation and entrepeneurship







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