Vinay Menon: Is 6 seconds too long to stare at a coworker? Netflix would know
Netflix is wise to get tough on workplace harassment.
Though the streaming service has revolutionized entertainment, it has not been immune to the sexual scandals that have cast dark shadows on the industry in recent months. The names of celebrities once associated with Netflix — including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. and Danny Masterson — are now disgraced cautionary tales. As with all of Tinseltown in this dispiriting #MeToo era, Netflix is keen to flick the cultural needle over to #NotAnymore.
It wants change. It wants a better tomorrow.
And the motivation is not just corporate altruism.
As Reuters reported in January, the Spacey scandal cost Netflix $39 million (U.S.) after it severed ties with the actor and scrapped “unreleased content.” Having a predator on the payroll is not just bad for a brand — it’s brutal for the bottom line.
So according to a recent story in the UK’s Sun tabloid, Netflix is giving new workplace training to employees. In an effort to curtail the sexual harassment that now seems like a Hollywood plague, Netflix has reportedly created “new rules” designed to protect staff by governing workplace actions.
The Sun lists these alleged guidelines as follows:
1. “Shout ‘Stop, don’t do that again!’ if a colleague has been inappropriate”
2. “Don’t give lingering hugs or touch anyone for a lengthy period of time”
3. “Don’t ask out a colleague more than once if they have said ‘no’”
4. “Steer clear of a colleague once they have said they are not interested in you”
5. “Don’t ask for a colleague’s phone number”
6. “Report a colleague who has given anyone unwanted attention”
7. “Don’t flirt”
8. “Don’t look at anyone for longer than five seconds”
With the possible exception of screeching “Stop, don’t do that again!” — which seems too theatrically over-the-top to be practical — the first six rules sound reasonable. Lingering hugs? Bad. Unwanted and extended touching? Bad. Pestering a colleague to go on a date after you’re politely turned down? Bad.
This is a workplace. It’s not a pick-up bar or Tinder.
The “don’t flirt” edict is, to my mind, less clear, only because flirting is highly subjective. Sometimes my wife will jokingly accuse me of flirting with a waitress when all I’m really trying to do is make sure my martini is prepared correctly: “Honey, I’m not attracted to her. I just don’t want too much vermouth.”
But coming from Netflix, it is Rule No. 8 that is truly intriguing.
Remember, this is a company with proprietary algorithms that can accurately predict what millions of individual customers will do when clicking around their site from any geographic location in the world. Netflix knows what I will watch before I’ve even heard of a title. It’s eerie. This is a company that has mastered metrics, data and human behaviour in the same the way Baskin Robbins gets ice cream.
So if this Sun story is accurate and Netflix has now determined that staring at a colleague for longer than five seconds is a potential occupational hazard, doesn’t this warrant further academic study? Shouldn’t other companies prepare to adopt this rule? Shouldn’t we all be silently counting down five Mississippis in our heads when dealing with colleagues?
Why is it five seconds? If you catch a coworker gazing at you across the office in silence for four seconds, wouldn’t that still feel like a creepy eternity? Even two seconds is too long when someone is giving you an unwelcome once-over. Let’s also not forget that until 2016, when researchers at Rutgers University debunked the so-called “five-second rule,” people believed it was safe to eat food that had fallen on the floor if it was scooped up quickly enough.
Now we know better.
And does this five-second rule apply only to situations in which neither person is gabbing about business? What if you’re in a meeting? Are you supposed to break your gaze with the speaker every four seconds to avoid potential harassment charges? Should you be looking down at your shoes whenever you have any dealings with a colleague who may misconstrue your rapt, unblinking attention with romantic desire? Wouldn’t it be easier to just segregate every workplace by gender or at least provide all workers with disguises, body armour and panic buttons?
Netflix has neither confirmed nor denied these new rules. But in a statement to the Sun, the company said: “We’re proud of the anti-harassment training we offer to our productions. We want every Netflix production to be a safe and respectful working environment. We believe the resources we offer empower people on our sets to speak up, and shouldn’t be trivialized.”
Agreed. There is nothing trivial about sexual harassment. It’s revolting.
But Netflix needs to reveal a bit more about this five-second rule, especially after conservative media — including National Review, Daily Caller and Rush Limbaugh — are using this as proof the #MeToo movement has lurched off the rails.
What does Netflix know about us that we don’t?