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Four Ways to Recognize a Cultish Company Culture and What to Do About It

Over the years, company culture has shown to have a significant impact on companies, employees, and the work they do. Company culture represents the work environment in which company leaders and employees interact. At its core, it encompasses the mission, values, ethics, goals, and overall workplace atmosphere of a company. It’s existence in the office—good or bad—is inevitable and influential.

However, there are significant benefits to having a healthy work culture. According to Forbes, companies with strong company culture saw a four-time increase in revenue growth. Also, Gallup found that highly engaged employees—a byproduct of a productive company culture—saw a 10 percent increase in customer ratings and a 20 percent increase in sales.

Company cultures are essential to a productive work environment. However, what happens when culture starts to become cultish? When management and leadership begin to try to control the thoughts, behavior, and even communication of employees in the name of “streamlining company culture,” then the environment can start to become restrictive and harmful. So, what should you watch out for regarding cultish company culture, and how can you prevent it? Read on for our takeaways and tips.

1. When the Company Becomes “Everything”

While employees may spend most of their day at work, the job should not flow into every part of a person’s life. In their traditional form, cults seek to infiltrate every part of a person’s life while isolating family, friends, and the things they enjoy. If workers are being made to plan every part of their life around the job, and what employers may require, then the company may be teetering on intrusive cult-like behavior.

How to prevent this: Be clear about when work begins and when it stops. Enact a transparent vacation and time-off policy that allows workers to unplug, and make work-life balance a priority. Also, ensure that leadership practices what they preach to set the tone.

2. Disallowing Dissenting Opinions

company cultureMany “cultish” companies may put on a show that they want innovative and out-of-the-box thinking, but their true intentions may be the opposite of what they are putting on display. For example, if employees are encouraged to provide authentic opinions, but are then secretly or even publically ostracized for having a dissenting opinion or going against the grain, this shows a penchant for using “company peer pressure” to control employee behavior. Recently, a popular social media tech giant was accused of this.

How to prevent this: While it is vital that everyone is on the “same team,” it is crucial to recognize that companies are at their best when they allow independent thought. You want employees that are creative and forward-thinking, even if they disagree with the masses. Their dissent may be the catalyst for a new successful project.

3. Requiring Employees to Participate in Non-Essential Activities to Exemplify “Culture”

Are you thinking of setting up social events for employees? Great! However, what is the purpose? Is it going to be used as a barometer to judge how “dedicated” employees are? Alternatively, is it legitimately going to be used as a way for employees to get to know one another without any pressure? There are quite a few companies out there who subscribe to the former. However, it can be severely harmful in the long-run. If employees are invited to participate in a non-essential activity (lunch and learns, a table tennis game, or company happy-hour), they should be able to decline without being ostracized or shunned for not “adhering to the culture.”

How to prevent this: Be intentional about the perks and non-essential activities you incorporate into your work environment. If you would like for all employees to be a part of something, preface it ahead of time. Something should not be said to be non-essential to attend when you actually judge employees on whether they do or not. The non-essential activity should serve a genuine purpose, and if employees opt out, that should be accepted.

4. A General Lack of Transparency

company cultureIs the team meeting still serving its intended purpose? The goal should be for senior leadership to be transparent about where the company is going, and everyone’s part to play. Failing to do this can lead to a company going down the path towards becoming a cult. Employees should hear the truth and should be allowed to ask questions. If leadership is avoiding direct inquiries or doesn’t provide legitimate answers, then the company’s personality is starting to border on cult-like.

How to prevent this: Make authenticity and transparency a company value and exemplify it as much as possible. Work to create trust between yourself, senior leadership, and any lower-level employees, so everyone feels comfortable enough to be transparent respectfully.

Final Thoughts

Every company should strive to have a culture that promotes healthy communication, safety, and creativity. These values are excellent additions to company culture. However, culture should never be a gimmick. When it is more about “showing,” rather than being authentic, the company culture can quickly become cultish. So, be intentional about fostering a culture that promotes independent thought and transparency.

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Chanell Turner
Chanell Turner
Chanell Turner is a contributing writer and investigative journalist for ASBN.

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