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Employees See Cracks in Airbnb’s Starry Ideals

Airbnb earlier this month fired about 50 full-time employees and more than 100 contractors who prepared meals in its offices, offering them positions at an outside food services company instead. What would have been a routine cost-cutting move at many companies caused an outcry among Airbnb employees, who saw the food team as emblematic of the company’s culture.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky eventually had to apologize for the abrupt way the firings were announced. The episode shows the difficulties Airbnb executives are having in balancing the company’s benevolent ideals with the business’ needs ahead of a possible public offering next year. And there are signs growth is slowing. A report released last week by Morgan Stanley revealed fewer than expected U.S. and European travelers said that they would book stays in Airbnb in the next year.

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A longtime chef who was laid off wrote in an email to the company that the explanations that executives have given for the decision “suggest some dishonest patterns this company is going to have to face as it continues our mission to personify belonging for a global community. This is something I believe that others agree with.”

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In the wake of the firings, which employees said were abrupt and affected one of the most racially diverse employee groups at Airbnb, Mr. Chesky acknowledged in a company-wide email that “there has been sadness, anger and confusion.”