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How to Tell If That Cool Company Is a Cult … Before You Take the Job


If you’ve seen a swarm lining up for the latest electronic geegaw, or folks wearing T-shirts emblazoned not with their college or favorite sports team but a corporate brand, you might dismiss these folks as fanatics. But would you like to work someplace that treats its employees as disciples, not team members?


(Photo Credit: Vironevaeh/Flickr)

A recent Forbes article talks about how successful corporations have “cultish tendencies.” But how would you know that you’re entering a potential cultish workplace when you’re not on board yet? It would be useful to have some idea of what you’re getting into – say, during the interview stage. Could you tell a successful or cool company from one that could be considered a dangerous proposition?

Do You Know What You're Worth?

You Might Be Stumbling Into a Cult If:

Workers are told to avoid the competition like the plague. No bringing X brand chips to a Y brand lunchroom. No bags from one convenience store allowed at your desk at another convenience store’s corporate offices. Encouraging workers with company discounts is one thing, making policy and threatening pink slips if you exercise free choice is quite another. Do you like having free will taken away? Then go right ahead and sign on.

You Might Be Courting a Cool Company If:

Perks are the selling point. If you appreciate culture bonuses like concierge services, laundry pickup, or extended parental leave, then go for it. (Just be aware of some traps that look like perks – that free lunch might come with the expectation that you never leave your desk.)

Competition can breed better environments for workers, and many “with-it” companies will take the time to figure out what will: a.) make employees happy enough to stay, and b.) court new employees who will bring great talents with them.

You Might Be Looking to Work for a Cult If:

The leader isn’t ever (EVER) denied. If your whole company revolves around one person and their word is undeniable law, then red flags should be going up. Workplaces shouldn’t be full of “yes men,” they should be forums for discourse and insight. Contributions should come from every pay grade, not just the corner office.

You Might Be Interested in a Cool Company If:

There are a lot of co-workers who gush about what they’re producing. Tech companies tend to have the most cause to rave about their own self-worth. Think about friends who work for Apple – do they deign to own anything not emblazoned with the fruit? Do they scoff at your off-brand, open-source gadgets? Likely so, but perhaps they’re just producing a good product that they believe in.

So cults can be in the eye of the beholder. As long as you’re not collecting “leader beans,” you’re probably not fully indoctrinated in your workplace cult yet. But if somebody offers you Kool-Aid, maybe just pass.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you escaped a workplace cult? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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