Happy chanting just risible corporate claptrap

Sat, Feb 23, 2013, 00:00

Q: When did work become a cult?

An insurance firm forced workers to chant feel-good slogans as they happy-clapped their way through meetings, an employment appeals tribunal heard this week.

Cries of “I feel happy, I feel healthy, I feel terrific” were apparently part of the patter insisted on by the Combined Insurance Company of Eur- ope, while merry-clapping was the order of the day, every day.

While such claptrap may be an extreme example of a company taking on cult-like characteristics, many businesses instil in their employees an attitude and a philosophy which outsiders might consider a little intense.

Take Ryanair. It is not a cult and Michael O’Leary is not a cult leader (stand down libel lawyers), but at the company’s drab HQ on the fringes of Dub- lin Airport, O’Leary is treated with god- like reverence.

He is surrounded by a cohort of senior executives who look and sound alarmingly like mini-Micks. They all wear variants of the same uniform – high-waisted jeans, open-necked shirts and V-necks – and his confidantes repeat his mantras with the frequency and ferocity that makes it clear they have been seduced by the boss man’s blunt charms.

Joining a cult

It is not just senior Ryanair staff who appear to have downed too much of the low- fare Kool-Aid. Many of the cabin crew prowl the aircraft aisles and check-in desk with a frugal menace clearly inspired by their boss.

Ryanair borrowed its business model from Southwest Airlines in the US, a firm where the personality of would- be employees “will fit in with the Southwest family”.

One HR executive at the airline has compared being hired to joining a cult. It is an American way.

Many top US firms display characteristics more commonly found in cults. Apple’s staff bristle at criticism of the stock they sell as they read from the book of Jobs with evangelical zeal, while Google promises to do no evil.

Both refer to their workers as “family” and employ charismatic management who are expected to be showmen.

Corporate Cults: The Insidious Lure of the All-Consuming Organization was written by Dave Arnott more than 10 years ago; it argues that as companies attempted to be friendlier places to work, they became a replacement for family and community.

“It starts with a refrigerator in the lunchroom and ends in a full-blown corporate cult,” he said. It is a chilling thought.

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