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Netflix’s Autonomous Workforce

Hey bosses, Are you having trouble recruiting and retaining top-notch talent? Maybe you’re not giving your employees enough autonomy. Employees at online movie retailer Netflix are allowed to take as much vacation time as they want–on the clock, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Vacation limits and face-time requirements are “a relic of the industrial age,” says Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings.

Hey bosses, Are you having trouble recruiting and retaining top-notch talent? Maybe you’re not giving your employees enough autonomy.

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Employees at online movie retailer Netflix are allowed to take as much vacation time as they want–on the clock, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Vacation limits and face-time requirements are “a relic of the industrial age,” says Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings.

Netflix’s time off rules–or lack thereof–are part of a broad culture of employee autonomy instilled in the company when Hastings founded it a decade ago. The executives trust staffers to make their own decisions on everything – from whether to bring their dog to the office to how much of their salary they want in cash and how much in stock options. Workers are treated, as Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord likes to say, as adults.

As somebody who has worked in an office that allows dogs I have to interject here to state that pets in the office is a horrible idea–allowing employee autonomy in this decision is a tacit endorsement of urine stained carpets and outright discrimination against Americans with allergies.

Also consider this little tidbit:

At Netflix, roughly 340 employees in Los Gatos and Beverly Hills manage the company, write the computer code, design the Web site and strike deals with Hollywood studios. The other 1,000 are hourly workers at a customer service center in Hillsboro, Ore., and at DVD mailing hubs around the country. Those workers receive a free Netflix membership and DVD player after three months on the job, and the same healthcare benefits as salaried workers. But they have a fixed amount of paid time off.

How very bourgeois, Netflix.

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While it would be quick to pin the autonomy movement on the Silicon Valley crowd, a Yahoo spokeswoman scoffed at Netflix’s model: “We’re a grown-up company, with over 12,000 employees, and you have to have some semblance of process and procedure.”

Still, flexible schedules are now available to 28 percent of full-time U.S. workers, almost twice the number in 1991, reports the non-profit advocacy group Corporate Voices for Working Families.

So bosses, how much autonomy are you willing to give your employees? Is there any way the Netflix model could be applied to any other business? And is it really good form to offer one sector of your workforce new-world autonomy while treating the other sector like industrial-era serfs?

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