Is Your Company a Cult? Four Tell-Tale Signs

The environment and perks may be enticing, but at what cost?

Linda Castrilli
Index
Published in
4 min readJan 29, 2022

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Photo: GettyImages

I worked at a company whose reputation preceded it. Friends who worked there gushed about the perks — summer Friday hours on every Friday during Daylight Savings Time, your choice of spa treatment during business trips, the most generous maternity and paternity leaves I’d heard of inside this country…

I was determined to work there one day.

And one day, that dream came true.

On my first day, an administrative assistant showed me to my office and said she was ordering a Blackberry for me (this was years before the iPhone came on the scene) — what kind of data plan did I want? Also, would I like to join her for a step aerobics class at the company gym during lunch? Could she schedule time for the ergonomics specialist to come and adjust my office chair?

A few months after that, I was awarded a trip to Mexico. My husband joined for four days of sunshine, snorkeling, zip-lining and champagne receptions. He loved my new job as much as I did.

I settled in and was determined to stay for as long as they would have me. This place was as perfect as you could get in a place of work, wasn’t it?

Until it wasn’t. It didn’t take long for some cracks to show through. Eventually, I started using the “c” word to describe it.

A cult is a group or movement held together by a shared commitment to a leader or ideology. Sometimes it’s dangerous; other times, it’s not.

In my case, I began to find the environment toxic. Some days I felt like my colleagues, and I were co-contestants on a reality TV show, one where we’re all vying for the same million-dollar prize, making potentially untrustworthy alliances and saying things like “I’m not here to make friends.”

I eventually left and, now with an outsider’s view, can recognize that the covert manipulation tactics and dissociative techniques inherent in cults were also lurking behind the walls of my workplace.

How can you tell if the company you’re about to join (or are already an employee of) resembles more of a cult than a workplace?

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