Amazon and Airbnb Culture – Two Approaches to Employee Experience

August 17, 2015by Mike LepisCultural TransformationEmployee Engagement


We are excited to see the discussion about employee experiences that have been in the news. This Sunday’s articlein the NYT “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace” about what it is like to work at Amazon has set off the internet and elicited an immediate response from their CEO. If you have not read the NYT article you should grab a cup of coffee and dive in. It does not paint apretty picture for the employee experience at Amazon. But I have to say I’m glad Jeff Bezos acknowledged the article and encouraged employees to escalate to HR or himself any of the callous behaviors captured in the article.

On the flip side, you have Airbnb, who recently changed their Chief Human Resource Officer into their Chief Employee Experience Officer. Mark Levy, Airbnb’s new CEEO, explained their goal in creating a workplace experiences to Forbes: “…creating memorable workplace experiences which span all aspects of how we relate to employees, including how we recruit them, develop them, the work environment we create with them, the type of volunteer experiences we offer them, and the food we share together.” I’m encouraged how he describes ‘how we relate to employees’, not ‘how we manage them’. This is a promising shift in how companies are thinking about employees. While we think Amazon is unique in their data driven approach to employees and business, there needs to be a balance between that approach and Airbnb’s approach of carefully crafting each employees experience.

This move shows a shift in how companies view employees. They are no longer ‘resources’  they are people with ‘experiences’. We ‘relate’ to them, we don’t ‘manage’ them. It’s a shift in language, of course, but I’m confident we’ll see more changes like this from other big business players, and I don’t think it is lip service. With the war on talent companies are recognizing they need to understand what engages their people.

What can you do to transform the employee experience where you work? Here are three simple things you can start on:

Ask Employees What They Want

Don’t be afraid of opening the flood gates of requests for bring you pet pig to work. People are smart, they just want to be asked. I’m sure you’ll find some easy things you can implement to create your ownemployee experience in line with what employees really want.

Embrace your Mission and Values

Your company’s core values hold valuable guidelines and filters for what your employees are looking for. Be authentic and ground your employee experiences in your values and mission.

Take Risks

Go out on a limb and try things you have not tried before. Look to what works with consumers and think about how employees would respond to similar engagement tactics.

Creating an employee experience that defines your organization takes time. At the core, you have to be sincere and committed (and patient). It is not easy, and it is unique to every organization. What works for Amazon won’t work for Airbnb. Figure out what will work for you and the end result is an employee experience that produces great work that people feel good about, they also feel good about each other. Sounds like a pretty good place to clock-in everyday.

Mike Lepis

As a Chief Strategy Officer, Mike leads our team to develop strategy, insights and creative solutions to drive employee engagement. He believes through human-centered design and strategic communications—employees will get behind a brand and its mission.