David Heinemeier Hansson

May 20, 2022

This might not be the place for you

They failed to capture the hill at Netflix. That small but vocal gang of employees hellbent on canceling Chappelle last year over his comedy special. Now comes the counter offensive from the executive in the form of newly updated cultural guidelines at the company:

As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values. Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.

That's what happens after a moment of overreach. It leaves you exposed for the riposte. Netflix has now delivered just that, and it's not just a zinger, but a booby trap.

By codifying the fact that Netflix expects employees to be able to work on a wide breadth of content, which invariably means some of it might offend individuals from time to time, they've drawn the boundaries of employment. This is the work! If you're not fit to perform your duties in service of that work, well, you can't be on the payroll.

This didn't use to be controversial in the before times. Being, say, a proof reader at a publishing house did not mean you had to personally approve of every book that landed on your desk. That was the responsibility of the acquiring editor. And people broadly understood this.

But in our brave new world, it's become common place to consider your job an integral part of your identity. And thus feeling like you're personally and morally liable for all decisions made and actions taken by said company. That's bound to result in a bad experience all around as soon as there are material disagreements (and there always are).

It's not hard to see how we ended up here, though. After a few decades of tech companies insisting they're really families, craving unbridled passion from employees, and demanding a work-life balance that was all work and no life, the space and time needed for a personal, private identity has effectively been under corporate occupation. This is a predictable outcome.

So Netflix taking an explicit stand against this is good. It's an admission in part that the strategy of boundless accommodation isn't working well for anyone. Resetting expectations is overdue.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.