Is Your Company Really a Cult?
Now that many of us are marching back to the office, something you can look forward to is this: well-meaning but often cringe-worthy team-building activities designed to rekindle a sense of common purpose. Thought leaders agree: There will be a revival of interest in “corporate culture,” with its attendant rituals — morning cheers and singalongs — and restocking of the company “kegerator.”
Put differently, the ’90s are calling, and they want their ping pong tables reinstalled.
But still other thought leaders say there are dangers here, so we can’t say we weren’t warned. It turns out that a company too eager to instill a corporate culture risks turning itself into a kind of cult. Cults, Bartleby writes in The Economist, “have their own jargon, rituals and beliefs. They have a sense of mission. They are stuffed with weirdos. If this sounds a bit familiar, that is because companies share so many of these traits.”
Time to Move On?
Is yours one of them? If so, the time might be right to move on, especially now that there’s a sellers’ market for talent.
So, how can you know if you are working for a cult, and what are the dangers?
- Does your company give employees nicknames? Nicknames “are meant to create a sense of shared identity. If you belong to one of these tribes and use its nickname without dying a little inside, you may be losing your grasp of reality.”
- Does your employer want you to think of the staff as a family? “The f-word may sound appealing. Who doesn’t want to be accepted for who they are, warts and all? But at best it is untrue: firms ought to pay you for your time and kick you out if you are useless.” At worst, research shows that in such workplaces, employees often fail to report unethical behavior.
- Are there beanbag chairs in your workplace? How about a game room? These are “supposed to exude flexibility and a relaxed attitude towards work,” Corey Moseley writes on the Jostle blog, “We get it, you’re hip.” But if the office looks like a children’s playroom, be careful: You don’t want to be seen “as the person who plays ping pong during working hours.” In fact, workplace ping pong tables are usually dusty, and for good reason.
- Are you expected to team-building games? What too many managers forget is this: Few self-respecting grownups want “to pass balloons between their legs or play laser tag or solve puzzles or go on a scavenger hunt. If they do, they don’t want to do so under the assumption that performing these tasks will somehow lead to a more cohesive, efficient team.” Usually, these team-building activities are a response to a problem — one often caused by leadership — and if poorly designed and executed, they “may even exacerbate the problem.”
- Are you focusing too much on “fun” social events? In all fairness, after “two years of pandemic disruption,” Kristen Senz writes in the Harvard Business Review, “who wouldn’t welcome a workday pick-me-up?” Some companies “attempt to demonstrate their fun-loving, flexible culture by proudly offering free beer on Fridays, or scheduling events with names like ‘Thirsty Thursday,’” Moseley notes. Unfortunately, alcohol-based activities often have more downside than upside potential for the company.
Having strong corporate values, however, is not the same thing as being cult-like. In fact, becoming a company with a social purpose is considered one way to attract, rather than alienate, a new generation of employees. Why? Perhaps it’s people are searching for meaning, rather than fun and games in their work lives.
If we’re going to make employees commute to the office once again, we ought to make the trip worthwhile.