Netflix workplace culture often ‘ruthless, demoralizing,’ WSJ reports

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings at the company’s Australian launch.

Image by Claire Reilly/Techhnews

Netflix’s workplace culture, at its worst, can be “ruthless, demoralizing and transparent to the point of dysfunctional,” according to a report by the Wall Street Journal Thursday. 

It’s a surprising look inside the media giant. Unlike other tech companies, like Amazon, that have been the subject of bruising exposès about workplace cultures, Netflix has long been celebrated in Silicon Valley for its cultural principles. CEO Reed Hastings is even writing a book about it

In an emailed statement, Netflix said it believes “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,” the statement said. 

The article includes claims that Netflix’s “keeper test” — the idea that a manager should only keep the workers that he or she would fight to keep — serves as a front for ordinary workplace politics and that some managers recount feeling pressure “to fire people or risk looking soft.” It recounts anecdotes of employees coming to work with a daily fear of being fired and being discouraged from making kind overtures to exiting employees because it isn’t the “Netflix way.” 

For years, Netflix’s culture has been heralded by others in the tech industry. Its “culture deck” — a long manifesto outlining the principles of how to treat employees and expectations of everyone who works there — was published on Slideshare in 2009 and viewed millions of times. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has said it “may well be the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.” 

Netflix updated its cultural principles last year as a long online document that lives on its jobs page. Among its core tenets are that the company will “keep only our highly effective people” and encourage people to be “extraordinarily candid with each other.”

The WSJ’s report comes after Netflix fired its chief communications officer in June for using a racial slur at least twice in meetings with workers. That incident and how it was handled were key anecdotes in the WSJ’s reporting. 

This story originally published at 1:13 p.m. PT.
Updated at 1:51 p.m. PT: With more details from the report. 

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