I am finding it increasingly common, when talking about working at Netflix, for people to tell me that their companies are embracing an unlimited vacation policy similar to the one Netflix has been employing for years. When I hear these kinds of statements, my first thought is that these programs are not likely to have the desired outcome. I think that because Netflix does not have an unlimited vacation policy. Rather, Netflix has a culture of “Freedom and Responsibility” (F&R), which is discussed extensively in our publicly available culture slides.
The culture of F&R extends much further than its application to vacations, sick days, and holidays. F&R is a mindset on how we treat each other and our jobs on a day-to-day basis. It is a simple mantra that basically states that we are all adults, so let’s all behave and treat each other like adults. And if a person is not consistently behaving like an adult, they should not work at Netflix.
So, what does it mean to “behave like an adult”? At the core, Netflix seeks out senior-level people who are seasoned, both in their primary competency as well as in how to work effectively with others. We expect people to live up to the values that we discuss in the culture slides, to be people on which we would want to trust the future of our business. In fact, we are trusting the future of the business on each and every person who works with us. And that is the central point of it all… trust. If we cannot trust you, you should not be working at Netflix. Period.
This kind of trust takes many shapes. One example is that there are no strict silos in our server access rights. Virtually every engineer at the company can easily get root-level access to virtually any system in the production environment. Another manifestation is the fact that virtually everyone in the company knows key strategic initiatives that we are focused on well before these initiatives go public. As a result, everyone in the company is subject to trading windows for our stock options. That level of openness, at a company the size of Netflix, is exceedingly rare. And we can do all of this because we hire (and fire), essentially, for that deep level of trust.
With respect to vacation, that is just another manifestation of our trust as it pertains to F&R. We trust our employees and peers to take care of what they are responsible for. As long as we are being responsible (ie. getting our part of the project done, communicating our situation to others, etc.), then we don’t have much interest or concern around how others budget the rest of their time. We are free to do as we please because we can be trusted to do what we are supposed to do. As a result, tracking people’s time for vacation, sick, holidays, etc. just does not make sense. Track the results of the output, not the amount of time that it takes to execute it (or even which hours of the day were used to complete it).
On a related note, for the companies that do track hours work and audit leave days, many of them do not also track late night hours working on production deployments, site outages, etc. If you are going to track one, you must track the other. But it really makes no sense to track either. Companies trust these people to deploy and maintain their entire digital presence at midnight on a Saturday, but they won’t trust these same people to be responsible with their own time. That makes no sense!
At the core, Netflix does not have an “unlimited vacation” policy, we have a trust policy. If we trust you, then we will trust you and will give you great liberty to accomplish amazing things. If not, we will part ways.