How to Recognize the Signs That You Work For a Corporate Cult (and Still Enjoy the Free Snacks!)
Note: This article originally appeared in Force Fields Magazine on June 28, 2014
There’s a mildly disturbing trend that’s been developing over the last decade or two. Many corporations are becoming more like cults insofar as the indoctrination, motivational, and recruitment methods they employ on their workers. I’ve personally encountered this first hand through working for such companies, interviewing with many more of them, as well as from experience of dating girls who were employed/captivated by such institutions. It is no longer sufficient to merely put forth the effort and achieve solid results in a given job and expect a paycheck. Companies now seem to require you to be a devoted disciple of their brand as well as adhere to their “new agey” pseudo corporate philosophies in all aspects of your life. “We all live and breathe Such and Such Internet Company Inc” an interviewer recently told me without even a hint of understated sarcasm. “We want someone 100 percent dedicated to our brand, 24/7.” Well, it’s not me, pal. You might have some useful products, and I’d be happy to promote them for you, maybe even exaggerate their value a bit if I have to, in exchange for some steady cash, but I don’t live life solely for the ideals of pimping someone’s goods and services that people don’t truly need(and they don’t.) In other words, my workplace does not equal my identity.
It’s one thing to slightly overemphasize the quality of the services and pretend your business is doing really amazing things for the sake of making a buck.. yet these companies are filled with true believers. Millennials(particularly of the female variety) seem to be the most hardcore cult followers. They often possess a passion for the internet companies they work for not unlike the cheerful enthusiasm of Kim Cattrall’s character in the religious training camps portrayed in the 1981 film “Ticket to Heaven.” Truthfully though, I’ve seen office “bros,” sorority sluts, and even Hillary Clinton pantsuit rocking business women get emotional to the point of tears when speaking about their love and devotion to the social media marketing firm they slave for. “Umm, excuse me, you know this is just a place that sells ads and stuff, right?” is the heretic thought that immediately pops into a free mind, which dares not be spoken aloud. “We don’t sell things here. We provide solutions that are going to save small businesses.”
Like cults, many modern businesses have their own unique lingo and bizarre euphemistic terminology for internal processes and hierarchies. The Moonies “love bombed” people. Corporations have “fuel calls,” “culture committees,” seemingly urgent commands like “so and so needs to be sparked,” as well as hundreds of other phrases, acronyms and code words which usually make little sense to anyone outside the particular organization. All of the pep talks, the slogans, the videos, the motivational team building activities, the chanting, the charismatic guru CEO’s(whom often look like they could have doubled as 70’s porn stars in another life) and their henchmen can leave a relatively sane person feeling pretty isolated working at one of these places.
Notice how managers increasingly stress the importance of someone being a “good culture fit,” when discussing the recruitment of prospective employees. This has typically been a weasely code for age discrimination against older applicants, people with merely annoying idiosyncrasies, or even those possessing wack fashion styles. Basically, they want someone who is on the same page as everyone else…someone who isn’t going to make waves or stir the pot. I’ve also heard of the “culture fit” copout being used to discriminate against women, but in my experience girls tend to be the most likely to benefit(at least the attractive ones,) and they are typically those most obsessed with promoting/developing company culture in general. Perhaps it is just ugly people who are not a good culture fit, and gender is irrelevant. Pseudo-scientific “predictive index” styled psychological tests and assessments are given to screen hopeful applicants(sometimes even before initial human interviews) in an attempt to weed out potential agitators and those that might be a “bad fit” for the position and the company. If you play the game without rolling your eyes in front of them, manage to maneuver through their psychological assessments, “gotcha” roleplay scenarios and are lucky enough to be chosen, they expect you to live your life as an unquestioning extension, a tentacle of their brand, even outside of work. How you conduct yourself in private can indeed reflect negatively on their business, but that’s precisely because of the increasingly pervading mindset that you = your job. These same companies often creepily describe employees as being “part of our family.” Now that actual families are typically smaller and likely to be separated geographically, many young people are on their own without any support structure, and these money making entities are filling the void. It’s nice to be taken care of when you’re struggling in a lonely big city, but it sucks balls to have to give up your soul and individuality in return. After all, the People’s Temple provided for their followers’ needs as well(just don’t drink the Flavor-Aid.) Indeed, some large internet companies are starting to build onsite housing for their workers. With all their needs met and a happy environment employees will no longer have to be concerned with anything in life except being productive.
There is a positive side to all this of course. Anyone who has ever worked in a boiler room call center knows what a truly shitty work environment is like: “Are you hungry? Cool, dude. There’s a vending machine in the break room, but the candy bars are close to being expired, and you sometimes have to shake it or it will eat your quarters. I usually just get a hot dog from the 7-11 across the street.” The uncomfortable chairs with mystery stains on them, the manager who screams at you if you’re two minutes late back from break, the disgusting, obnoxious, trashy, fatass coworkers who talk while eating Hot Cheetos and chew with their mouth open, etc. Such are the traumatic memories of workplaces in our previous lives, pre “do not call list” era, telemarketing shitholes of the 1990s, “engrams” needing to be wiped out in auditing sessions. To that extent these new companies with their catered lunches, on site massage therapists, “work hard play hard” mentality, and serene, smiley face ambiance are a very welcome change. There was undeniably a silver lining to hating a horrible job environment though. It drove us to seek out genuine fulfillment in other areas of our lives and to dream. Whether it was through having children, writing a science fiction novel, or even just sitting around watching reruns of Charlie’s Angels and The Rockford Files, it was something in the outside world that had nothing to do with work, whereby our minds could detach and deprogram. I’ll admit it’s tough to reconcile libertarian free market economic views with the cynical reality of how big companies actually operate these days, the way they manipulate people and turn them into walking commercials… zombies with high resolution logos. In fact, I don’t think I can do it, and I certainly don’t enough care enough to try. At least for now you can still choose which cult you want to join though, or whether you want to join at all.
So, if you’re looking for a job, get with the program and join a team today. By all means, work for one of these 21st century corporate cults. Enjoy every excess they offer. Everyone is so happy! You’ll love coming to work every day. Just remember though, during the morning meeting when they lead the “energy chant,” make sure(while maintaining a shit eating grin on your face) to mutter your own unique version under your breath. Give them your talents, but keep your soul. Oh, and unlike some cults, if you try to leave these ones, you can actually walk right out the door. Good luck out in the streets of San Francisco(or Austin or Brooklyn or wherever – insert yuppie white liberal metro area here -.) Michael Douglas and the late Karl Malden won’t be there to save you from the mobs of the violently schizophrenic homeless people or assist you with the area’s astronomical rent costs. Anyhow, you probably won’t really want to leave any company in this job market, but unlike a real life biological family, if they ever decide you’re not useful anymore to their cause, your smiling brothers and sisters in commerce will “offload” your ass in a heartbeat. Enjoy those catered team lunches while they’re hot, but beware of wolves in hipster millennial CEO clothing.