Ranting about the boss can lead to sacking, it just happened at Netflix

Employees are humans, and humans surely need to vent

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A Hollywood Reporter story claims that Netflix fired three marketing executives after they were found criticising the management for slacking. The report also claims that the VP – original films marketing, was reluctant to let them go but buckled under pressure. While it does raise concerns about the work culture at Netflix, it also poses a pertinent question, ‘Does one deserve a pink slip for criticising one’s boss? The streaming giant’s Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, defends the decision on LinkedIn saying, “What happened here was unfortunately not simply venting on Slack or a single conversation. These were critical, personal comments made over several months about their peers and not their management as suggested by THR article, including during meetings when those peers were talking or presenting. This is entirely inconsistent with those values, which is why their manager fired them.” He also refuted the claims of monitoring Slack conversations and asserted that having a healthy culture requires hard decisions, which is why managers don’t shy away from them at Netflix.

There are many ways to air out one’s grievances against the bosses and all are supposed to be heard. At a time when there is so much talk about empathy and hearing out employee grievances, how fair is it to sack people for such a reason?

A safe place to vent

A senior HR executive of a leading manufacturing company believes Netflix is doing the right thing. “They clearly want to discourage such activities, but human beings are used to venting out their displeasures. They need a safe place to do so, because everyone knows how powerful bosses are. Nobody wants to be in their bad books. However, if senior people indulge in this, they are actually encouraging the culture. Also, people are not letting their bosses understand what is affecting them about their conduct.

“The employees’ action could be looked at positively, as a venting-out mechanism that should be encouraged at a workplace. If resorting to this mechanism invites punishment, it will only create pressure chambers for everyone to suffocate in”

Sachin Narke, chief learning officer, head- talent acquisitions, and head- HR, Forbes Marshall

There has to be a middle path. This senior HR leader also believes, however, that firing is quite extreme an action to take in this context. Ideally, Netflix should have sacked all four — the three executives and the boss in question. Nobody will feel safe in that organisation, given its environment of fear.

A people’s organisation

It is never easy to speak up about one’s boss, even if it’s just to another colleague. Sometimes venting out to a friend at work helps one calm down and get on with the job. Everyone needs to find that space in an organisation for it to be a people’s company. Netflix’s work ethics has often been questioned. Sachin Narke, chief learning officer, head- talent acquisitions, and head- HR, Forbes Marshall, feels if there is not more to this story then prima-facie, it is obviously not a thing to do. The law of natural justice should prevail. “Also, the employees’ action could be looked at positively, as a venting-out mechanism that should be encouraged at a workplace. If resorting to this mechanism invites punishment, it will only create pressure chambers for everyone to suffocate in,” Narke asserts.

“Workplace issues are inevitable. Employees are human and humans do have differences of opinion. Grievances, if not addressed, can be quite fatal for the organisation. On top of that, if an organisation decides to sack people for airing their views with each other, it only shows the company in poor light. The employee grievance redressal system should be leveraged here,” feels Jayati Roy, director – HR, Barco.

“Just for ranting, nobody throws anybody out unless there is a past history or someone is maligning others for some fictitious reason despite repeated warnings. If that’s the case, it’s a different story altogether. Otherwise, it is not ethical to sack an employee just because he/she has vented out to a colleague”

Jayati Roy, director – HR, Barco

A question of ethics

“Just for ranting, nobody throws anybody out unless there is a past history or someone is maligning others for some fictitious reason despite repeated warnings. If that’s the case, it’s a different story altogether. Otherwise, it is not ethical to sack an employee just because he/she has vented out to a colleague. There needs to be some kind of investigation before sacking, which is the nature of justice that is followed. At many organisations, including ours, there’s a grievance-redressal policy where employees can share their issues. That’s the whole concept and point of psychological safety that everyone needs to have at a workplace,” Roy says firmly.

Clearly, it is unethical to sack employees simply because they ranted about their bosses with each other. There’s a systematic way of dealing with such people, which does not warrant an extreme step, such as what Netflix took.

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