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Corporate Cults: The Insidious Lure of the All-Consuming Organization Hardcover – November 5, 1999

3.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

What's the similarity between the Branch Davidians and Southwest Airlines? According to business columnist Arnott (management, Dallas Baptist Univ.), both organizations are cults, one religious, the other corporate. In this unique, fascinating look at organizational dynamics, Arnott shows that the many controlling tactics corporations use are similar to those used by well-known religious cults, e.g., charismatic leadership, separation from community, and a demand for unwavering devotion to the cult. The author's personal experiences with some of these organizations enrich this disturbing analysis of how "culted companies" require employees to pledge unconditional obedience to leaders, subsume their identities, invest all their "free" time and energy in the corporation, and consider family and community expendable. In addition, personal insights into those who find meaning in what they do instead of who they are and practical strategies for restoring a more normal balance among work, family, and community make this an important book. Highly recommended for business collections and all university libraries.ADale F. Farris, Groves, TX
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.


In the latest backlash against corporate America, the American Management Association has chimed in with an alarmingly titled book that features a tattooed, suited skinhead on the cover.

It's main point: Corporations can steal your soul. In the 230-page book, Dallas Baptist University professor of management Dave Arnott contends that in the rush to make companies friendlier places to work, they've been turned into a replacement for family and community. "It starts with a refrigerator in the lunchroom and ends in a full-blown corporate cult," writes Arnott.

A "corporate cult," says Arnott, has all the characteristics of any other cultlike group: It subordinates the individual to an organization; it uses terms like "family" to describe the organization; it rewards behavior, not tasks. Arnott says employees contribute to the problem by turning to their employers for their emotional needs and adopting a loyalty to the company that exceeds devotion to one's family and personal needs.

Arnott describes a corporate cult as one that requires devotion from its employees, has charismatic leadership and causes a separation from the rest of the community by supplying enough of those needs itself. Sounds a little like some Net companies.

Corporations create cults, not culture, by giving too much to employees, he says. The author warns that employees are short-sighted to hope for emotional fulfillment from companies - prisons are better providers than employers, he charges. Prisons, for example, give inmates their own toilets, permit visits from friends and family, and allow inmates to watch TV and play games.

Companies, by comparison, make people share toilets, often punish employees for socializing with friends and family in the workplace, and wouldn't dream of letting employees watch TV or play games on company time (OK, here's where Internet companies might be an exception).

The situation isn't entirely the fault of the company. Arnott says that when employees allow themselves to be hired for who they are instead of what they can do, they perpetuate the idea that identity and self-worth should come from the boss man.

Arnott takes pains to illustrate how companies' cultlike behavior evolved. In a strong economy, one would not bother to argue about emotional bondage, because economic bondage would be strong enough. The current economic boom, plus the emphasis on intellectual capital rather than industrial strength, makes the market ripe for cultish behavior. So does the geographical breakup of families, who are now too far removed to provide all of a person's support.

So does this mean that workers should disregard all that warm and fuzzy "team building" stuff they learn? No, says Arnott. It's OK to like what you do and want to work with others, but employees are at risk of becoming corporate-cult members when work gets in the way of reason.

- Laura Rich -- From The Industry Standard


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: AMACOM; 1 Ed edition (November 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814404936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814404935
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,039,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The image of the tattoo on the man's head was a little radical for me, and I have to say that it took a while to even pick this book up. I'm very glad I did, however. I noticed that a previous reviewer (or two) became very defensive in their explanation of what a wonderful situation it is to belong to a corporate cult. Like the frog, enjoying the warm water, but slowly boiled after gradual temperature increase, you poor people never even saw it coming. Of course the company provides everything you could possibly need. Of course they reward you for five, ten and fifteen years perfect attendance. Why ever leave the property, when you have a place to eat, take your children, exercise (and yes, even sleep). The joke on the "team" I worked was that we only went home to change clothes. That could be addressed as well, with lockers in the fitness center. Eventually, your entire life is with the company, and this is the danger. Work needs to stay at work, and home at home. When the lines are blurred, I guarantee your life will fall apart. Depend upon it. You may have met your spouse there, take your kids to daycare there, have breakfast and lunch with all your friends there, but at some point, you will realize the high price you've paid. They are taking care of business, not you. They really do not care about you at all. When you retire after 40 years of service while holding your pencil set engraved with the corporate emblem, the question I want you to ask yourself is this: Were the trinkets and certificates worth it? Are you a better person for sacrificing your whole life to show your loyalty and thankfulness? Did all your bowing and scraping pay off? Have you realized your full potential at the expense of your marriage, your children and your sanity (...Although they did come through on hospitalization costs after your nervous breakdown.)? Did you make the right decision?
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Format: Hardcover
While many organizations wrestle with the challenge of retention and loyalty, some organizations, according to Arnott, achieve a dysfunctional degree of control over employees. The author finds parallels between the traits that define a cult-devotion, charismatic leadership, and separation from community-and the characteristics of 'best places to work' namely, sense of purpose, inspiring leadership, and knockout facilities. Arnott finds an unhealthy, insidious physical, emotional and psychological relationship between individual and organization involving the use of manipulative and controlling tactics. The organization displays something like the gravitational power of a 'black hole' into which the light of individualism is drawn.
Conversely, some people have a dysfunctional dependency upon their work and corporate community for their identity and psychological needs; they are willingly absorbed into the closed organizational 'black hole.' The author thoughtfully explores the dynamics of the "when work becomes life" cult phenomenon, its effects on family and community, and advice on how to avoid the cult trap.
All organizations have some cultedness; using Arnott's cult test, people can find least cult-like places to work. This book is a timely, and extremely absorbing and provocative work. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Gerry Stern, founder, Stern & Associates, author of Stern's Sourcefinder: The Master Directory to HR and Business Management Information & Resources, Stern's CyberSpace SourceFinder, and the Compensation and Benefits SourceFinder.
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Format: Hardcover
What if the organization that you worked for found a way to provide you with all of your human needs, including your meals, social companionship, growth, and even personal meaning? Before you sign up, you might want to heed Dave Arnott's warning that you could be walking into a cult.
I found Arnott's treatment of corporate life to be somewhat biased by his thesis that organizations, particularly those labeled as "great places to work," operate like intentionally manipulative cults. The book takes a number of organizational innovations, such as wellness centers and other on-site conveniences designed to make life easier for employees, and spins them into an evil spider's web designed to trap employees into the organizational version of a cult.
While the book provides a very thorough description of the major elements of a cult and how these elements exist to some degree in a number of organizations, it downplays the need for organizations to offer incentives, such as providing on-site day care, wellness centers and dining facilities, in order to attract and retain highly talented employees.
In the end, however, the book does challenge the reader to question the potential downside of organizations who provide such lavish incentives to keep people on their payrolls. Is there a danger that organizations could go too far in their competition for the best and brightest employees?
In an age where organizations are examining ways to tap into the more emotional and spiritual sides of employees, it is a question worth pondering...
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Format: Hardcover
Some eye-opening insights into corporate life in the late 20th Century, and fascinating reading whether you're in a corporate cult or not. I loved the Cult Test. Are you sure you're not working for a corporate cult? This test will tell you.
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