Fired employees attend their own post-mortem

It’s not enough that employees are constantly rating each other; the brutal feedback continues even after Netflix has cut the cord. It’s common practice for employees to be present in a meeting where the reasons they were fired are aired. What’s more: “Postmortem emails and meetings explaining why people got fired are viewed by some employees as awkward and theatrical when the audiences can be dozens or even hundreds of people,” the Journal reports.

Later we learn: “The emails about firings can reach hundreds of employees across multiple divisions and can be painfully specific, calling out an employee’s flaws, while inviting more questions and gossip, many employees say.”

Policies are communicated in doublespeak

On paper, Netflix’s policies and generous benefits give employees leeway to make decisions about business expenses and leave time, part of the company’s “freedom and responsibility” culture. Except taking those policies at face value can apparently lead to trouble, as the Journal discovered:

Netflix announced in 2015 that it would offer its employees maternity or paternity leave up to a year, trusting employees to use their discretion on whether to take full advantage. Following Netflix’s lead, other companies expanded their own leave policies. But in recent months, after many people construed the policy as an automatic full year, Netflix executives discussed reining it in, people familiar with the situation said. The company now instructs managers to tell their employees that it’s common to take four to eight months, Netflix executives said.

Employees can’t comfort or support peers who have lost their job

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the story includes two accounts where employees did not comfort a just-fired peer, in one case because they were afraid they’d become targets if they approached a coworker who was crying as she packed up her boxes.

In another case, employees’ effort to show some camaraderie was kiboshed by senior management:

Belle Baldoza, a former public-relations manager in Singapore, got into trouble with human resources when she asked co-workers if they wanted to chip in to help out a receptionist who was fired during Chinese New Year and wasn’t eligible for severance because he worked on contract, people familiar with the incident said. Human resources officials told her such a collection was not the “Netflix way” and was “not in the best interest of the business,” the people said.

The cost of success

Hastings has been praised as a visionary and “miracle worker”  for the brand he created in Netflix, a company now worth more than $130 billion. And the Journal story contained several quotes from people defending the company’s culture. Working at Netflix was an intense learning experience, they say, and the pay was generous. In fact, the voluntary leave rate is only 3%, far lower than the industry standard of 18%.

(The involuntary rate of departure is 8%, only 2 percentage points higher than the average for this category.)

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to see how Netflix’s culture, as described, could be sustainable. It’s also hard to imagine how building a workplace where compassion is actively discouraged will benefit Hastings’ legacy. For leaders, empathy is the new black, according to management experts.

When Quartz at Work contacted Netflix about the Wall Street Journal story, a spokesperson offered the following statement: “We believe strongly in maintaining a high performance culture and giving people the freedom to do their best work. Fewer controls and greater accountability enable our employees to thrive, making smarter, more creative decisions, which means even better entertainment for our members. While we believe parts of this piece do not reflect how most employees experience Netflix, we’re constantly working to learn and improve.”

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