3 min read

Warm Take: On Layoffs. May 10, 2020

Optimize for dignity and care
A couple embraces at a UK railway station, train in the background, light filtering through skylight.
Goodbye, by Ian Livesay, Public Domain Mark 1.0
June 23, 2022. This post was sent via email to supporting members, and I've just lightly edited, and unpaywalled it. It's analysis of a May 2020 layoff announcement I thought was in good form: it is not about a current event!

So I’ve been talking to people about layoffs.  Some conversations have been about actual layoffs.  I’m so sorry.

I got into a few conversations about layoffs at Airbnb, and the process they communicated.

Instead of roughly polishing a written analysis for today, I recorded unscripted remarks on CEO Brian Chesky’s communication.

Kind of like a weird Anne Libby DVD commentary, for anyone who may have to send out an email like this down the road.

Mosaic, black, brown-red, blue and white.  Title to linked video, Warm Take: May 10, 2020.
Click the photo – or the link – and you'll be directed to my short video.

I’m a big believer in process as a scaffold for all of the things that your employees will experience.

Some of this is just common sense; because someone invented the bike, I can just get on my bike and ride. Thank goodness for Deborah Madison, who wrote my favorite cookbook.

I am grateful for the rules of the road.

This is all so hard. I think about the probably inexperienced people who made decisions that led them to deliver bad news in the worst ways.

When I was a brand new manager, my boss pushed me to lean on a small team we had just laid off:  they needed to be more productive.

My manager was wrong. I pushed back at her; she pushed back at me.  I relented, and pressed our workers.

One of them scolded me.

He was right, and I backed off.  This was a terrible way for him to have to manage up, and a hard lesson in learning to manage actual human people.

When you make the effort to design processes that optimize for dignity and care, you enable managers who execute processes to do the right thing.

You don’t have to hope they will exercise their own common sense, empathy, integrity.

The Airbnb communication lays out both good policy and good process, and I’d give it an A. It’s a good counter to some of the layoff errors we’re seeing dragged on Twitter. I will be interested to find any good reporting on how the folks at Airbnb responded.

Complimenting Airbnb is gives me kind of not-good feeling of “values dissonance.” I think their business model is extractive;  I am not a fan.

And there’s more to be said about this. Employee experience design can be a kind of dark pattern, and used to enlist good people to working against the greater good.

Maybe even against their own interests. But this digression would require a much cooler take.

One note:  I’ll probably take the video down from You Tube; the link in the email will break at some point down the road.  Speaking of extractive, I want to find someplace else to host it, but haven't taken time to figure out what I want.

It’s late Sunday morning, and my coffee is lukecold.  This one’s barely proofread because it’s Mother’s Day, and I am fortunate to have a mom to attend to. I’ll fix all of my typos, some of my imprecise points, and the video link on the web version.  That’s why I’m calling it a Warm Take.

Send me a note!  I love to hear from you.  And thank you for reading and supporting my newsletter.

May you and yours be safe, peaceful, and healthy.

Anne Libby


(Me, in the grocery store today.)