Netflix tells employees who find content objectionable to quit and that’s pretty awesome
Netflix has had a rough few months, of course. Last month, the company reported its first drop in subscribers in more than a decade. Since the start of the year, its share price has fallen nearly 70%.
This is after the company faced intense criticism from employees for its decision to stand alongside David Chappelle’s recent special. The employees staged a strike, claiming the special was transphobic. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the special, and the company fired an employee accused of leaking confidential information.
Today, the company is updating its culture note, which sets out a series of operating principles and core values. It is meant to help employees make decisions, and it also gives potential employees an understanding of the company culture.
In the update, Netflix added a section on “artistic expression”, which says in part:
Not everyone will like – or agree with – everything about our service. While every title is different, we approach them with the same set of principles: we support the artistic expression of the creators we choose to work with; we program for a diversity of audiences and tastes; and we let viewers decide what’s right for them, rather than asking Netflix to censor specific artists or voices.
As employees, we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles contrary to our own personal values. Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles that you perceive as harmful. If you’re struggling to support the breadth of our content, Netflix might not be the best place for you.
Indeed, Netflix is telling employees to quit if they are not comfortable with content produced by the streaming service. He says that while he knows some people won’t agree with the decisions he makes, this principle is important enough that he’s willing to lose employees. More directly, he tells anyone who might think they want to work at Netflix to look elsewhere if they’re unwilling to work on projects they might find objectionable.
You might say it’s not a very employee-friendly policy. Telling employees to quit if they have a problem with David Chappelle, or any other content on Netflix, seems a bit harsh. It is totally true.
Here’s the thing, though. In fact, I think it’s pretty brilliant.
To be clear, I’m not saying that employees shouldn’t have opinions or that they shouldn’t express them. Employees are people and people have opinions. They also have values, beliefs and principles.
When employees feel they have to compromise these principles because of decisions made by their employer, they often let you know. This is not – in itself – a bad thing. Employers absolutely must consider their employees when making important decisions.
At the same time, this is where things can get messy. If something like artistic expression is an important tenet for Netflix, there are bound to be people who disagree with particular content. Many of them will feel strong enough to make those feelings known. The solution, in this case, is not to have no values or principles, the solution is to be clear from the start about what they are.
By the way, I’m not saying companies shouldn’t listen to employees and make changes. I’m also not saying Netflix employees are wrong about how they feel. Besides, I’m not even suggesting that Netflix is right.
My argument is not that Netflix should produce what it wants. What I mean is that if Netflix is going to produce content that some people might find divisive, it should be clear about that.
It is extremely important to be clear about the values that guide your decisions. The people who work for you deserve to know your values. They deserve to know what you stand for. Some of them will disagree with you – this is inevitable in any group of people.
Your job is to make sure everyone understands the principles you use to make decisions and what they can expect. This way they can decide for themselves what is best for them. That’s exactly what Netflix does: it makes it clear how it will act, in unambiguous terms, and gives employees (and future employees) the information they need to do the same.