Well-Being//

What Happiness at Work Looks Like, According to Airbnb’s First Global Head of Employee Experience

Work spaces designed like your living room are just the beginning.

With so much of our daily lives and, often times our sense of purpose, attached to our careers, work has to be a place where we can be happy. Luckily, workplace well-being is now a badge of honor for companies around the world, with LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Fortune creating annual lists of the best and happiest places to work.

One company that frequently shows up on these lists is Airbnb. With everything from email efficiency workshops to the company’s annual $2,000 employee travel stipend, it’s no wonder Airbnb ranked #11 on LinkedIn’s top 50 companies to work for in 2017.

The wellness programs at Airbnb can be attributed to their Employee Experience team, a division is devoted to the health and happiness of Airbnb employees.

To learn more about Airbnb’s work culture, we emailed the man who started and now serves as the Global Head of Airbnb’s Employee Experience team, Mark Levy. With over 20 years of experience in human resources at companies like Gap and BestBuy, he’s learned that an inspired and engaged company culture is a crucial element of success. Here’s what he shared with us.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Thrive Global: Of all the wellness programs and facilities at Airbnb, which ones have had the greatest impact?

Mark Levy: A few things are really important for Airbnb:
1. Our offices are designed with our employees; we leverage our employees to provide input on how they want to work (sit versus stand, desk versus other options) and we provide our employees the opportunity to design some of our meeting rooms. They choose the Airbnb home or apartment that inspires them and then bring it to life with a defined budget. The spaces are meant to be welcoming so we feel like we belong, like we are at home. They’re inspired by travel, and our meeting rooms are replicas of Airbnb listings from around the world, so we remember that it is our hosts and their homes who deliver on our mission of belonging. We also work in an environment where we can belong anywhere—most offices don’t even have an assigned desk, just neighborhoods by function or outcome, and we move freely through the space from the dining room table, to the living room to kitchen counter.

2. At the end of each year, we have, for the most part, given everyone a longer break, adding on to the statutory holidays additional time off to be with their families and friends, travel to faraway places and recharge. When we work as hard as we do, it’s such a nice gift at the end of the year to be able to have a time when no one (except those that are customer facing or closing the year) is working—no emails, no obligations. This has been invaluable.

TG: What’s been the biggest challenge in helping employees prioritize their health and happiness?

ML: Scaling. When we were smaller, everyone was able to feel more connected—to the mission, to the founders, to each other. As we have grown, it becomes harder for a purpose-driven company to find ways to ensure everyone has a voice, feels they are contributing, feels they are recognized and most importantly feels they are growing.

TG: Airbnb’s Sustainable Performance initiative, which launched just over a year ago, proactively addresses stress and burnout by helping employees work smarter rather than longer. What kinds of things does this initiative include?

ML: We’ve focused on two things:
1. Ensuring that we support an integrated life for our employees. This includes offering things like Headspace, Life Dojo, or yoga, and revisiting our time-off policies to ensure that we were supporting parents or longer-tenured employees who need a break.

2. Testing new ways of working like no-meeting Wednesdays so people have think time, training people on email and meeting efficiency so that these time-consuming activities are more thoughtful and productive. Now we’re addressing decision rights so that we make faster and better decisions that are not revisited.

TG: Can you share any tips from the trainings?

ML: Every email and meeting should have a purpose and outcome. The distribution or attendees should only be those that need to know or have a role in the topic. And make sure there’s an ask or clear next steps.

TG: What’s your best advice for college kids entering the workforce? How can they find the jobs that make them happy and support their well-being?

ML: Simple: do what you love and love what you do. Spend time thinking through what you are good at, what inspires you and where you can best make a difference. Then find a way to pursue a career and/or a company that brings your best self to work.

Mark is a seasoned globally minded HR Leader who has chosen to work for big hearted companies and focus on how he and his team can unleash the talents and interests of a company’s employees. He has worked with the likes of Levi Strauss & Company and Gap Inc. partnering with business leaders to support their HR needs including innovative ways to create a learning organization and ensure integration between work and life. Mark also spent two years living and working in Paris France for Thomson/Technicolor.

Mark, who is currently leading the Employee Experience of a recent acquisition, Luxury Retreats, was the pioneer of creating the Employee Experience team at Airbnb, which has created significant changes in the way organizations globally are looking at broadening the HR function. This group includes traditional HR functions in addition to broader areas focused on culture and workplace. Mark’s current areas of responsibility are Recruiting, Diversity & Belonging, Workplace (Food, Facilities, Safety & Security, and Environments), Learning and Development, as well as Ground Control, a team which is responsible for curating the culture. Airbnb’s mission is to create a world where you can belong anywhere, and the employee experience mission is to ensure employees feel they belong here at Airbnb. “It is a privilege, a ton of fun and a lot of work to scale the organization while ensuring we don’t F#@k up the culture.”

Mark has his JD/MBA from the University of Colorado after four formative years at Colorado College. Mark chose to leave the practice of law after one year to focus his career on helping organizations do the right thing and to attract, develop, engage and retain creative and diverse talent to drive business results, curate the culture and create community connections.

In addition, Mark has been actively involved in helping organizations enable their employees to help those less fortunate through volunteering programs and community involvement, and is currently on the Board of First Graduate, a non profit which helps those who are first in their family to attend college.

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