Employees Are Watching Netflix at Work. Should Execs Allow It?

A recent survey from the internet streaming service shows some employees admit to watching movies and TV shows while at work. How should executives react?
Netflix at work

Executives beware. There’s a new workplace distraction to combat.

As if executives didn’t have enough on their plate when it comes to ridding their workplaces of today’s most common productivity killers — from spending office hours browsing Facebook or other social media to using portions of the workday to online shop or chat with friends.

But for some workers, partaking in these personal activities at work isn’t enough. They need a greater infusion of their personal distractions while at the office — this time in the form of … Netflix.

Netflix? At work? Seriously?

Apparently, yes.

According to the results of a survey commissioned by Netflix conducted late this summer by SurveyMonkey, about 37 percent of respondents said they’ve watched the online streaming service while at work. What’s more, about 12 percent of the survey’s respondents admitted to watching its movies or TV shows from a public restroom.

Perhaps some of those respondents are watching Netflix while in the office bathroom. We’ll probably never know — and thank goodness.

So, where do we even start with this? While I love Netflix and a good binge-watching session as much as anyone else, the idea that people say they do so while at work is a real head scratcher.

Let’s start with the logistics. Depending on what type of work someone does, how exactly are they consuming Netflix at work? Are they watching on their phones at their desks? Do they have TVs mounted in their cubicles? Do they walk the warehouse or manufacturing floor with tablet in tow, monitoring the day’s production but also catching the last few episodes of “Stranger Things”?

For what it’s worth, The New York Times, which initially caught my attention by reporting the fact that people are streaming Netflix on the job, didn’t provide answers to these types of questions.

In any event, the notion speaks to a new type of distraction executives now have to deal with.

Checking personal emails or social media while at work just recently became a somewhat acceptable practice at many companies. While initially resistant, executives it seems finally gave up trying to police it, realizing that people were going to do it anyway and that today’s work-life integration is more about measuring workers’ performance by their results, not micromanaging exactly how they spend their time.

This thinking likely works for most corporate jobs and for salaried employees, but becomes more of a stretch when you’re dealing with hourly work or jobs that are client- or customer-facing. Could you imagine your dentist throwing on “Armageddon” while filling your cavity?

For other jobs, those in media especially, being on social media is part of the gig. Building an active personal brand on Twitter might help raise the company’s profile and influence, which in turn may help the company’s financial performance.

Does the same type of thinking apply to not just checking personal email for a few minutes but watching movies or TV shows during breaks or, dare I even suggest, while they work?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. At first pass, my initial reaction is that, depending on the type of work, watching Netflix should be considered completely unacceptable.

I mean, how can someone possibly maximize their work focus and productivity while streaming “Animal House” in the background? Don’t even get me started on if the movie they’re watching is some intense psychological thriller. There’s simply not enough human brainpower to do both.

Yet, on the other hand, I wonder if the same sort of performance-oriented thinking — and not time-spent-working thinking — should be applied here as well. If I have a top performer streaming Netflix while they work at their computer for portions of their day, and they’re still cranking out high-level results, what’s the difference?

For instance, it’s not uncommon for me to have TV news streaming on my tablet muted in the background while I complete certain tasks. When I’m not doing that, I sometimes also listen to the radio while I work.

Can I do the same with a few episodes of “House of Cards”?

Certainly there are portions of my week where I’m doing administrative work that doesn’t require as much focus or brainpower. I might as well make it more enjoyable by pairing it with a viewing of “Goodfellas.”

So, should executives create an anti-Netflix policy for their employees? My initial answer is probably not. First, evaluate if your company even has a Netflix problem to begin with. The survey showed less than 40 percent admitted to the practice, so odds are you don’t.

I would treat it the same way you treat any other potential workplace distraction nowadays. Be mindful of it, but don’t create a draconian policy banning it altogether — depending, of course, on the nature of your company’s business and employees’ work.

Heck, if your top performers can remain top performers while binging “Star Wars,” then more power to them — or rather, may the Force be with them.

Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s managing editor. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.