An organization’s culture is a key factor that job seekers must consider when pursuing a new role. After all, a company’s culture seeps into every aspect of employees’ jobs, attitudes, and behaviors. Culture should be a big deal to candidates and employers. When it’s done right, a company’s culture can redefine its brand and make it an employer of choice. Done wrong, culture can repel talent and advance toxic workplace behavior.

One of the most poisonous types of environments is the corporate cult. This phenomenon occurs when a company’s management team exerts an inordinate amount of control over the way their employees think and act. A cultish company will say that it values individuality and diverse perspectives, but what is desired is more of a hive mentality, where groupthink reigns. When you’re analyzing a company’s culture, be alert for these signs of a cultish culture:

Excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment to the CEO. Some CEOs are, quite literally, worshipped by employees, the public, and the media. Does the CEO have a signature style of dress? Do the employees emulate that? Red flag.

Us versus them. We are the best, the epitome, the pinnacle, the ONLY way. All of our competitors are trash, we have no respect for them, and we will uncompromisingly destroy them.

They have their own language. Companies may invent their unique terminology and use Orwellian, loaded language to reinforce a sense of belonging and exert control. 

Rituals that seem weird. One such company famously led its employees in screaming chants of the company’s name. The world’s largest retailer begins new shifts with the compulsory company cheer. Others have a company song.

Isolation. A cultish company will market itself as a replacement for friends, family, and social life. It will encourage employees to build their identities around the company and center their lives around their jobs. A company may do things such as Thursday night happy hours, pajama Fridays, or free lunch. Although none of these are inherently bad, they could be tactics to keep people at their jobs and away from any personal distractions.

Harmony at all costs. Leadership is not to be questioned, and employees who do are ostracized. Disagreements are regarded as bad, and conflict, rather than being healthy, is viewed as destructive. Two-way communication drives growth and innovation, but a cult will stifle that engagement. 

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