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#sowhoknew: Working 9 to 5 is ‘no way’ to make a living!

In the immortal words of Dolly Parton, “Working 9 to 5 – what a way to make a living… it’s all taking and no giving”. Well, that is unless you work for Netflix who have dispensed with the traditional 9 to 5 working practice and introduced fully flexible working hours and vacations. A sensational initiative or simply a ‘House of Cards’ ? See what I did there? 😉 Oh, please yourself then…

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The battle for the best millennial talent is constantly raging and employers are progressively cognisant of the desire from prospective employees to offer creative compensation packages, more absorbing work environments and flexible working hours. The guys at Netflix are pretty much the pioneers of this practice. When they started in 2004, they soon realised that their traditional 9 to 5 working policy wasn’t, err, working for them.

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So they took an incredibly brave step and introduced what they call their ‘freedom and responsibility culture’. Simply stated, they scrapped their policy of fixed working hours / holiday allocations and replaced it with a, erm, no-policy. In other words, staff could take time off whenever they wished and for as long as they wanted. There was no need to ask for any approval and time sheets were eliminated. The employees themselves were the only ones to decide if they fancied a few hours off each day, take a week off on a whim or even a month if the urge compelled them. No rules. Netflix based their no-policy strategy upon one solitary factor. Trust. Now there’s a concept, trusting the people you have employed…

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Basically they decided to trust their own people to determine when they would take a break. As long as the individual felt entirely reassured that their absence would not be detrimental to their colleagues, clients, the company or their careers they were entitled to take off as much time as they jolly well pleased.

Totally preposterous right?

Wrong. The scheme has been a resounding success. In an article by Huffington Post, they have cited it as one of the pivotal reasons for the stratospheric success of Netflix and quoted senior analyst Sam Stern from Forrester Research on the matter, “If you trust and empower people and give them a chance to rise to the higher expectations, the vast majority of people are able to do it.”

Netflix is always eager to extol the virtues of their stratagem but are equally keen to add that it only works because it hires ‘fully formed adults’. The company then simply treats them as such by offering almost unlimited freedom to ‘take risks and innovate’ without being constrained by complex layers of process.

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But surely this maverick approach is just a one-off? Well actually, no it isn’t. Inspired by the innovative proposition, Sir Richard Branson introduced a very similar scheme for Virgin staff in 2012. According to Mr Branson, the less rigid attitude towards working hours has been enabled by increasingly sophisticated technology which effectively means people can work pretty much anytime and anywhere, “The Netflix initiative had been driven by a growing groundswell of employees asking about how their new technology-controlled time on the job (working at all kinds of hours at home and/or everywhere they receive a business text or email) could be reconciled with the company’s old-fashioned time-off policy.”

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According to Mr Branson, the key to its success is a simple matter of quality versus quantity, “The focus should be on how much people get done rather than how much time they spend on it.”

So that’s it then. Every company should introduce flexible working for their employees and trust them not to abuse the privilege. Case closed, article over.

Well, in the spirit of balance, maybe it’s not as clear cut as it first appears. There have been a few cases where a more ‘enlightened’ management approach to flexibility hasn’t always paid off. In 2013, Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo!, made the startling decision to rescind their ‘work from home’ policy on the basis that it’s ‘not what’s right for Yahoo right now’. The message that was being telegraphed by Ms Mayer? Come in to the office where we can see what you are doing. Oh and you better look busy.

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And, whilst the (supposedly) altruistic approach offered by Netflix provides some astounding incentives don’t be fooled into believing it’s just a haven for slackers. The Netflix culture is one that is driven solely by success. They don’t demand their proverbial ‘pound of flesh’ in terms of time spent working but they absolutely insist upon results. In fairness to Netflix, they make it abundantly clear what is required of their employees in their much vaunted Culture Deck, “Sustained B-level performance, despite ‘A for effort’, generates a generous severance package, with respect.”

Zero ambiguity there then. Hard working losers can leave.

So what do you think? Is the 9 to 5 really a thing of the past? Is the prospect of fully flexible working hours something that would appeal to you in your chosen industry? Is it just a cynical way of making you work harder but without the invisible barrier of time constraints? Or as Dolly herself might say, “It’s all right, but it’s all wrong“.

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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