Netflix: A Great or Terrible Place to Work?

Have you ever wondered about exactly how Netflix works? How those little red DVD envelopes get sorted, packaged and mailed to your home? Reports popped up recently, but they paint two curiously different pictures.

Netflix

Netflix: Employee heaven?

MG Seigler at Techcrunch managed to pick up an internal Netflix presentation intended to explain company philosophy to its own staff. It's such an interesting document that Seigler suggests "other companies should have to read this."

Netflix, it seems, is really trying not to work in the same way that other large companies do. There's no real policy on vacations--it's a question of taking as much time as you need. Managers are encourage to let staff go if they're not doing the job, and to value efficiency over attendance--rewards shouldn't necessarily go to those who arrive early and work late, if other staff achieve the same in a standard day. Top staff should be paid well so they don't leave. Staff are encouraged to say what they think, "even if it's controversial."

And there's the killer line: "Our model is to increase employee freedom as we grow, rather than limit it, to continue to attract and nourish innovative people." For many an employee in an overly restrictive workplace, with corporate-suit bosses who play the "Well, Bob here was working over the weekend...Where were you?" card too often, this may well tempt you to up sticks and hike over to the Netflix recruitment office right now.

Netflix: Crypt-like silence, hellish boredom?

The Chicago Tribune's Christopher Borrelli got to visit one of the 58 Netflix distribution centers, and his story paints a different, and altogether eerier, picture. For starters, Borrelli wasn't allowed to divulge the location of the site--and neither are any of the employees. This is a move to protect the millions of thief-tempting DVDs inside each, and also to discourage customers messing with the system by turning up in person to drop off used DVDs. The building, in keeping with this, is drab, unremarkable and unmarked--there's nothing to distinguish it from "a meth lab."

Inside it's different. Nearly every employee is in "a red Netflix T-shirt, nearly every one in constant motion." Borelli was even asked not to disturb the production line workers with questions, lest he "disturb their groove." The groove which is a systematic, repetitive "flurry of fingers" where returned discs are unwrapped, checked and sorted at a rate of at least 650 an hour per employee. Every 65 minutes a bell rings and team leaders lead their groups through a quick callisthenic workout, all in sync, and then they return to work. Elsewhere an employee "swept what appeared to be a spotless floor" and a woman "sprinted back and forth along a mail sorter."

This makes it sound like the kind of dread corporate monotony that distopian sci-fi movies love to suggest is the way of the future. The fact that customers sometimes pop "scribbled movie reviews" and family photos into the Netflix envelopes thus seems a faint, stark, flicker of life against the all-encompassing corporate darkness--instead of a sweet tidbit of info.

So is Netflix heaven or hell to work in? It's impossible for me to say--I've never worked there, or anywhere like it. And the two pieces do have a slightly different slant, one towards factory-floor employees and one to execs. It does at least sound like the company's management are trying to maximize the efficiency of what would be a dread-boring day job any way you look at it, without doing so at the expense of their employees. And that's something I suspect many other establishments rarely think about at all.

[via Chicago Tribune, Techcrunch, Gizmodo]

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16 Comments

  • Bob Schoultz

    I've told my sons that there are two major routes they could take in their approach to work, and of course a large number of variations: One is to meld your 'life' and your work, so that your work and your hobbies, or things you would like to do in your time off are nearly the same. Obviously, this is an ideal that not everyone is able to achieve - but some are. The other is to find a 'McJob' that gives enough pay, doesn't involve a lot of stress or demand exhorbitant amounts of time, that leaves one with enough time, energy and (at least theoretically) money to pursue ones hobby in the off hours. This is what most musicians, artists, computer gamers, outdoorsmen do. The 'monotonous' job may be just that for a reason - save mental and physical energy for the gig at night, wailing on lead guitar for an awesome rock and roll band.

  • Bob Schoultz

    I've told my sons that there are two major routes they could take in their approach to work, and of course a large number of variations: One is to meld your 'life' and your work, so that your work and your hobbies, or things you would like to do in your time off are nearly the same. Obviously, this is an ideal that not everyone is able to achieve - but some are. The other is to find a 'McJob' that gives enough pay, doesn't involve a lot of stress or demand exhorbitant amounts of time, that leaves one with enough time, energy and (at least theoretically) money to pursue ones hobby in the off hours. This is what most musicians, artists, computer gamers, outdoorsmen do. The 'monotonous' job may be just that for a reason - save mental and physical energy for the gig at night, wailing on lead guitar for an awesome rock and roll band.

  • Samuel Campbell II

    One of the earliest jobs that I had was at my boarding high school. We made fluorescent light fixtures. You had a case, a guy who put on the upc stickers, the person who folded the transformer wire neatly so it fit the case, the guy who drilled the transformer into place, and me–the guy who put the cover of the case on, then the boxer of the case and finally the person who sealed and packed them onto a pallet. My crew was like a well oiled machine and we stayed in a "groove". We would crank those things out so quick that when they were in a jam they would ask our crew to come in at night to reach their daily goal. We had a freakin blast. Non stop jokes while we did our repetitive tasks. I love Netflix and have been loyal since 2003. I am happy that they get to enjoy a collective groove as they crank out DVD's for our enjoyment.

  • Samuel Campbell II

    Having worked in many industries, retail, industrial assembly line, fast food, trucking, media, nursing, etc... I have to say that at the over all point has been to get through the day and get home to do what I want to do. And while I have had jobs that I love going to and working at, its hard to beat an assembly line for its "time passing" abilities. To be honest I didn't have a problem with the complete picture that was painted by the two stories. Even though I get paid more, I welcome boring monotonous days rather than the drama filled days that are rule in Nursing.

  • Jim Puzar

    It's a distribution operation...what do people expect???? go over to FedEx and what do you see... a lot of people pushing packages around.. These articles are fun to read because they are always written by people who have never spent a day working on a factory floor.

  • Lloyd Lemons

    Unbeknownst to a lot of younger people today, is the fact that there still are many jobs out there that are not necessary tidy, plush and digital. Thankfully, we still have people who are willing to get their hands dirty--many even relish working with their hands--ya know that old saying, an honest day's work for an honest wage. Dystopian no. Monotonous? Perhaps to some. But I'm sure that many workers will find a kind of Zen quality about that kind of work. At day's end they'll go home and work on the great American novel, or the next gotta-have Iphone app. (And Netflix seems to have thought-out their program well.)

  • Kit Eaton

    @Freddy. Hehe. Oh my lord...that's hilarious! Though I've prided myself on following a Douglas Adamsesque career path, I've never done a truly monotonous job--I'm lucky.
    @Cliff. I quite agree. OTOH last time I flew Air New Zealand *everyone* was so damn happy :)

  • Bob Schoultz

    I've told my sons that there are two major routes they could take in their approach to work, and of course a large number of variations: One is to meld your 'life' and your work, so that your work and your hobbies, or things you would like to do in your time off are nearly the same. Obviously, this is an ideal that not everyone is able to achieve - but some are. The other is to find a 'McJob' that gives enough pay, doesn't involve a lot of stress or demand exhorbitant amounts of time, that leaves one with enough time, energy and (at least theoretically) money to pursue ones hobby in the off hours. This is what most musicians, artists, computer gamers, outdoorsmen do. The 'monotonous' job may be just that for a reason - save mental and physical energy for the gig at night, wailing on lead guitar for an awesome rock and roll band.

  • Ryan Thompson

    A company can't exist and continue to function unless the work is getting done. Every big or small company, like the dating site startup of ours, requires support personal who answer phone calls, reply to support email, take out the trash, sort mail, pack the DVDs. Just because work is assembly line doesn't mean that its not good and the company doesn't care about it employees. Think about all the car manufacturers who are the "pride" of America.

  • Cliff Kuang

    It might actually be both---There's always a huge disconnect between the people working in the offices and the people working the warehouses. For example, the management offices at many airlines are filled with young, well paid go getters. When's the last time you said that about the airline staff at an airport or on a plane, who generally seem pretty pissed off?

  • Freddy Nager

    Kit, I totally agree. I just don't think that kind of monotony is far different from what you'll find at most jobs. Seriously. We in the media have it pretty good. Think of the jobs of security guards, toll booth collectors, library re-shelvers, animation inbetweeners, phone book typists, monkey cage cleaners, street corner sign twirlers, chicken pluckers, C-SPAN camera operators, or worst of all, this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • Kit Eaton

    @Freddy. I think even monotony would get...well... monotonous after a while, even if it is an escape from the office bully.

  • NoahRobischon

    Amazon has sorters scooting around on Razers, right? What's missing from those sorting facilities is the kind of corporate culture you'd imagine from that ppt presentation.

  • Freddy Nager

    Sounds monotonous -- but for some people, monotony is a welcome relief over the stress-and-tedium of an "Office Space" style job. If war is "hours of boredom interrupted by moments of terror," then corporate jobs are hours of boredom interrupted by Facebook updates and the soul-crushing horror of office politics. Suddenly, working in an intensive assembly line doesn't look so bad.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Rick. Dystopian sci-fi movies, I think was the slant... with corporate monotony being the subject. I think we'd all hate the idea of thousands of us sitting drone-like in rows in silence, no?

  • Rick Thomchick

    I'm not getting what is so dystopian about working in a mailroom or shipping center. Isn't it telling that they care enough about the employees to do callisthenics? Also note the Netflix Values presentation states that it only applies to salaried employees.