Another Kind of Eugenics

I recently read an article written by the CEO of Netflix Reed Hastings where he stated that getting rid of “less than top performing” employees created a better work environment. They weren’t bad employees. Just not perfect. My immediate response to his version of what I call “Corporate Eugenics” was visceral and intellectual. Was he really arguing that anyone who doesn’t exist in a perpetual state of positivity and productivity in the name of his company’s shareholders is essentially useless? Yes. Yes, he was.

This type of psychopathic thinking not only absolves management from their duties to train and build up their teams, but it also, disturbingly, ignores the reality of human existence itself. Life isn’t perfect. Shit happens. Couples divorce, elderly parents die, children get cancer. All of these circumstances WILL affect a person’s performance at work. You know what else affects people? Working with people unable to get along with their co-workers who might not think or work the same way they do.

I’m sorry if the harshness of reality brings down the shiny false narrative of what many accept as “successful working culture” but it seems to me that a bit of flexible thinking is in order here. Managers at every level are responsible for creating a working environment conducive to professional development. You want a good team? Build one. Create a place where the very real existence of different learning style and personality types is not only acknowledged, but where an individual’s strength’s are recognized and used to a company’s advantage. That kind of leadership, particularly in the age of Covid-19 is what we need most. Stop paying attention to the flashy person with crappy ideas and start acknowledging the quiet person with good ideas.

Alas, according to Hastings, being a “good” employee isn’t good enough any more. Even being “great” isn’t enough. His employees must be great at all times lest they — the human cog — be replaced by a younger, shinier version of themselves. Ones that “fit it.” Because, God forbid people learn to work well with others.

I for one, will resist tooth and nail against this model. First, because it goes against everything I know to be good and decent about human beings. Second, because this model is frighteningly close to that of eugenics. Where people are placed into categories and the merely “adequate” and “weak” are discarded as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Lest we devolve further than we already have into a Dickensian nightmare with no opportunities for those over 40, those who think differently organizationally and those of us not extroverted 100% of the time, I propose what society needs now are managers and CEOs who take responsibility for creating toxic company cultures like the one Hastings described. Those who can pull their businesses out of their “positive thinking” echo chambers and embrace diversity of thought and working styles. Those with an ability to ask themselves, “What are my weaknesses?” Those willing to abandon such things as “Keeper Tests” in favor of deeper-level engagement with workers as people. Those strong enough to point the mirror of criticism back onto themselves instead of focusing on the weaknesses of their employees and blaming them when problems arise. Those who ask their workers, “What do you need from me to be more productive?” and then doing their best to make reasonable improvements.

I genuinely do not believe there is an inherent conflict between a financially successful company and a compassionate one. All it takes is a bit of…wait for it…hard work.