Netflix has opted out of the 9 to 5: is it too good to be true?

Netflix has no set work hours, and employees can choose their own work pattern. What does that mean for staff?

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

The challenge to recruit new employees this year is leading employers to explore weird and wacky employee benefits. Many sound ingenious in principle. Still, they can prove controversial when we dig a little deeper.

One example can be found at Netflix, where the traditional 9-5 workday no longer exists. The streaming giant scrapped it, proudly declaring that “time works differently at Netflix”.

The idea of having no prescribed start or end time in a job will prick the ears of UK workers, who are increasingly prioritising work-life balance and flexible working when job hunting. But losing the 5pm finish might result in endless doomscrolling for office workers.

So is this employee benefit one-to-watch for small businesses? Or is the promise of improved wellbeing just false advertising?

What’s controversial about banning work hours?

On some level, dropping work hours is a natural extension of the move towards flexible work. As our schedules become increasingly fluid, companies are adopting more lenient stances on what time an employee clocks in and out.

For example, take Cisco and Google. At both firms, staff are empowered to ask for flexible daily work schedules. Requests are then reviewed (and typically approved) by managers. Last year, one employee claimed to be working as little as one hour a day at Google.

The trend is now so commonplace it’s sparked a wave of buzzwords, like “chronoworking”. Chronoworkers pick work patterns that match their sleep patterns and preferred focus time.

Netflix is unique in the market, though, due to the scale of freedom it affords to employees. As revealed in an internal video, shared on the Netflix YouTube channel, work hours are ditched from day one of employment – and staff don’t have to ask managerial permission.

In the video, one Netflix employee explains, “as long as you know that you have your work organised, and you give visibility, you pretty much can go whenever you want.”

The dangers of always-on office culture

Losing set work hours could enable employees to find the timetable that best suits their work style. Or, it could be a slippery slope to “always-on” office culture. After all, if a person can work at any time in the day, what’s stopping them from doing it?

Particularly in today’s harsh trading landscape, the pressure to stay late and outperform colleagues has amped up. That’s especially true in uber-competitive sectors, like tech. 

Various software firms have adopted a policy of “do more with less” over the past year, and this desire to stretch resources is naturally increasing workloads. This has led to longer hours being normalised at self-described ‘flexible’ organisations.

One HR rep at Google said the quiet part out loud when they confirmed that “most salaried Googlers already work longer than 8-hour days on the days they’re working” last November.

Advances in technology have made the situation worse. Remote technologies and communication tools mean the majority of office roles can now be done from home, meaning employees no longer have to be ‘at work’ to be working.

In this context, being able to leave work when all tasks are taken care of looks more like a test than a genuine perk.

How to help staff switch off

Despite concerns, Netflix has been free from workplace scandals so far and its ‘no work hours’ policy appears to have won favour with employees. 

However, we’ve highlighted how the strategy might go wrong if not properly implemented. So how can firms interested in taking a flexible approach to work hours do so ‘the right way’?

The aim is to encourage a healthier attitude to workloads that protects from the risk of stress or burnout. Managers should schedule regular check-ins with those working flexible hours to ensure they feel supported and are not being given an unmanageable workload.

Similarly, companies should encourage staff to take regular rest breaks. Educate them on how to switch off notifications on popular business tools like Slack and Zoom, so they don’t feel tempted to work a longer shift than is good for them.

It’s also a smart idea to read up on the rules about contacting staff out of hours. Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 act, messages or emails sent outside of an employee’s contracted hours (unless absolutely necessary) could be considered an invasion of privacy.

Flexible working is like any HR policy. Done well, it helps staff to better balance personal and professional commitments. Done poorly, it can have almost the adverse effect. 

Fittingly, the ideal approach mirrors the responsible enjoyment of a Netflix binge: enjoying what we love, while knowing when to press pause.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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