Airbnb employees may have a case of the pre-IPO blues

Rejection still hurts.
Rejection still hurts.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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Working for Airbnb apparently isn’t as spectacularly amazing as it was last year.

Last year, the sharing economy mascot took the top spot on Glassdoor’s list of best places to work, beating out companies like Facebook and Google. But on the newly released 2017 list, which is based on employee reviews posted to Glassdoor between November 2, 2015 and October 30, 2016, Airbnb dropped to number 35—the furthest drop of any company on the list.

So what happened to Airbnb? Did it revoke it’s free meal plan? Did it lose its position as one of the best paying companies? Did it stop giving employees an annual stipend of $2,000 to travel?

According to Glassdoor, these aren’t the themes that led to the drop. What did change was how consistently workers complained about the company’s growing pains.

While Glassdoor bases its annual rankings on a proprietary algorithm that uses numerical ratings submitted by employees, who must verify their email addresses or attach a valid social networking account, it also considers “the quantity, quality and consistency of reviews.” Glassdoor told Quartz that themes in Airbnb employees’ recent reviews mirror those it has seen from employees at companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Zillow during the period before or immediately after those companies went public. “[As a company prepares for an IPO] internal processes change, especially around transparency,” a spokesperson said.

When companies are preparing to go public, Glassdoor often sees company reviewers complain about a loss of career growth opportunities as their employers draw outside talent, a struggle to achieve work-life balance as projects ramp up, and a decline in transparency around financials and decision-making.

Airbnb, which is fighting regulatory challenges to its business model, has been doing everything it can to push off an IPO  (like raising gobs of venture capital instead). But the company has reached a stage at which many companies do decide to go public. Its Glassdoor reviews complain about some of the same growing pains seen at at other pre-IPO companies as they transition from startups to grown-up companies.

Airbnb employees write on Glassdoor that “[There is] little transparency across the company.” They complain that there have been “Growing pains and little room for growth since they can hire for management positions externally” and ”such a strong increased candidate pool that internal hiring is no longer based on potential [and] it is nearly impossible to gain the proven experience now required to ‘move up’ at Airbnb, while working for Airbnb.”

Some mention, more generally, ”a lot of growing pains while the company is try[ing] to grow with scale.” And that “do [sic] to the hyper growth there is a lot of fumbling. A lot of things get overlooked and authority undermined.”

Others have mourned the loss of Airbnb’s startup culture, saying that ”Airbnb has historically been a warm environment and transitioning into becoming both a friendly and feedback driven culture has been a struggle” or that Airbnb is “becoming more corporate which is okay, however there was definitely a sweet heyday that I felt privileged to experience that’s come to pass.”

Despite these complaints, Airbnb employees on Glassdoor said they were mostly happy at the company (which has an overall 4.2 out of 5 stars rating on the site). They just weren’t quite as happy as, say, employees at management consulting firm Bain & Company, which topped the list for 2017, or Boston Consulting Group, which came in third.

In reading all of Airbnb’s reviews from 2016, the most common specific complaint was that the company doesn’t match its employees’ 401k contribution—a pretty minor gripe when you consider that more than 30% of private industry workers don’t have any employer-provided retirement savings plan. One employee complained that there was not a “to go” option with the free dinners that Airbnb provides for its employees. Even with some pre-IPO blues, Airbnb employees will probably be just fine.