When did being “good enough” at work become a firing offence?

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After stumbling across the Netflix “careers culture” page, Caroline O’Donoghue wonders why employees need to be exceptional in order to stay employed

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

Yesterday, through one thing and another, I ended up on the Netflix careers page. I am not looking for another job. I like watching Netflix, but have no particular desire to work there. (Having said that, I wouldn’t mind taking a meeting, if only to give them my opinion on their tragic misuse of Kathy Bates in the show Disjointed.)

But here I am, on the “culture at Netflix” page, picturing myself working at Netflix.

The “culture” section on any employer's jobs page is, customarily, a vague mishmash of words that used to mean a lot and now mean nothing (“integrity”, “honesty”, “productivity”) and words that used to not exist and now mean everything (Build-A-Bear cites “Di-bear-sity” as a value). Netflix, meanwhile, has gone in two-footed on their culture page

"We model ourselves on being a team, not a family. A family is about unconditional love, despite your siblings’ unusual behavior. A dream team is about pushing yourself to be the best teammate you can be, caring intensely about your teammates, and knowing that you may not be on the team forever.”

At this stage, I have the low-level feeling of unease that you get at the beginning of a Hunger Games book, but I’m not alarmed. After all, your work team is not your family. “Brian is like family around here!” is the exact kind of mental attitude that allows Brian The Perv to avoid being dragged into HR. But there’s something weirdly foreboding about “you may not be on the team forever”, which bring us to the “dream team”: a goal that is forever being pursued, but remains constantly out of reach, as though it were a steel quota in Stalinist Russia.

I keep picturing myself in that meeting – the one where I’m thanked for my good service, but told in no uncertain terms that I am not, as it turns out, dream-team material

The value and satisfaction of being on a dream team is tremendous. Our version of the great workplace is not comprised of sushi lunches, great gyms, big offices or frequent parties.

It feels as though Netflix is gearing up for a rant about how we need to eradicate the bourgeoisie, but still, I’m kind of on board. I have worked in dozens of places, and if I didn’t like my job, no amount of free beer or PureGym memberships was going to change that.

This is where the “culture” of Netflix hits its apex, though:.

Those that do not pass the keeper test (ie their manager would not fight to keep them) are promptly and respectfully given a generous severance package so we can find someone for that position that makes us an even better dream team. Getting cut from our team is very disappointing, but there is no shame. Being on a dream team can be the thrill of a professional lifetime.

So, here’s the deal: if you work for Netflix, and Netflix feels, for any reason, as though you are not exceptional, or “dream team” material, you are fired from Netflix and given four months' severance. If you fail the Keeper Test – which would be an excellent name for the dystopian YA novel based on this careers page – you’re out, with a handshake and an incredibly generous cheque.

As is probably clear already, I find this all just a bit ridiculous. I respect Netflix hugely for having disrupted a decades-old entertainment model, and have even worked with their delightful press team on several occasions. But, with all due respect, come on. This is a video-streaming platform, not the Zika virus. Is unwavering excellence and constant pursuit of a “dream team” really appropriate here? Is being “good enough” at your job really that big of a sin? We’re increasingly hearing that in the future, humans won’t “need” jobs – at the moment, we’re debating whether or not we even deserve them.

My boyfriend, who is also fascinated, feels differently. Like all men who were raised on training montages and army films, he fantasises about the day that he begrudgingly wins over the respect of someone who previously screamed at him to quit. He compares Netflix to the Russian Ballet, who remain consistently excellent through a combination of artistic vision and fierce firing of dancers. “Oh God,” I text him, frantically. “Promise me you will never apply for a job here.”

Because while Netflix is absolutely free to have whatever completely-legal-and-financially-generous hiring policy they want, I fear their approach is representative of a wider trend within hiring. We’ve transcended the faux-chummy “we’re a big family around here” atmosphere in favour of something a little more uncomfortable. Your job isn’t your family – your job is your god. You must strive for excellence, strive for purity, strive to achieve the divinity of the “dream team”. There’s a difference between “dedication to a common goal” and “cult-like devotion”, only I’m not quite sure what it is any more.

Many of you, I’m sure, will be rolling your eyes at this, and will already be composing tweets to me about how you would kill for a four-month severance package, and how this is a better deal than a huge amount of companies who would fire you for more traditional reasons, yet give you the bare legal minimum of severance. But I keep picturing myself in that meeting – the one where I’m thanked for my good service, but told in no uncertain terms that I am not, as it turns out, dream-team material. I picture myself telling my friends down the pub, bragging about my four months of holiday pay. And then I picture myself going home, going to bed and thinking about how, despite my best efforts, I was not good enough to work at a £7-a-month video-streaming company.


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