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Why Do Work Conferences Have To Feel Like I’m Joining A Cult?

Allow me to paint you a word picture. You’re in a giant auditorium like the ones you used to sit at to watch concerts in high school or college. Maybe the room is a bit bigger. Maybe stadium-sized.

The lights come on and a man strides out to a cacophony of roars, sparks flying behind him, smoke machines blanketing the stage. Everyone in the audience is captivated, riveted, entranced by his every word. He gets thunderous applause as he finishes a quick discussion of…last quarter’s earnings reports.

That’s right, instead of some Tony Robbins wannabe up there trying to sell you some product, book, or belief system, it’s your CFO doing the Cotton-Eyed Joe dance as people cheer about an…innovative new HR initiative? Skits about the exciting developments and products on the horizon get fake laughs all around and more than a few people are ready to participate in the group exercise to “learn about your neighbor.” If you’ve never worked in a large company that hosts these large company conferences, consider yourself lucky.

Last year, I found myself in such a situation, working for a large, international, healthcare company doing legal work. On a quarterly basis, there would be a massive, company-wide conference at the headquarters. And all those literal smoke and mirrors I was talking about? Yeah, that was all there. Air horns, hype men that would make WWE wrestlers blush, and once even an honest to god foam cannon. At a work conference.

Luckily I wasn’t there, I was back in the DC office with the rest of my co-workers, watching the extravagant proceedings via a live stream. It wasn’t mandatory to be there watching the show, but we all understood it was, so we sat in a little conference room, waving like idiots when they called out our office’s name and panned over to us via webcam.

While I and a few of my other colleagues gave our half-hearted waves, there were, of course, more enthusiastic observers both in our room and live at the “show.” These people were paying rapt attention, eating up all the bullshit the leaders were spewing. It was like Michael Scott’s wet dream of a conference room meeting, attended by almost all Dwight Schrutes.

Outside of North Korean state propaganda, I don’t think you could find a group of more brain-washed people. And unfortunately, this is not the exception to the rule.

Even though my case was extreme, having worked at several large, corporate entities, a lot of places really do go far out of their way to make their employees feel like they’re members of a club. Part of a family. And people buy it.

There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your work. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of what you do. But having pride for your company? Now that’s a bit too far.

Because let me let you in on a little not-really-that-secret: these corporations do not give two shits about you. They may preach family, do all the rah rah of a high school homecoming pep rally, and regale you with the sob stories of a family down on their luck and the company that saved the papa’s job so little Timmy could go to school for the blind or whatever. It’s all horseshit.

At the end of the day, a corporation exists to make a profit, benefit its shareholders, and extract every last ounce of utility and productivity they can from their workers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no pinko commie who begrudges the corporations for this. Like the fable of a scorpion who always stings the frog, corporations always put profits above the well-being of their employees. That’s what they do, and I’m fine with that.

What I’m not fine with is this incessant need to gather the peons and attempt to brainwash the dumber ones about how much better their life is working in the service of Big Brother. It’s disingenuous, it’s unnecessary, and it’s the sort of faux moral superiority that makes them so insufferable. I would actually respect a corporation who was just up front with their belief that the workers exist as part of a symbiotic relationship where one party is paid for eight hours of productivity at a time.

At the end of the day, that’s all jobs are to me. They’re a means to an end that end being financial stability. I will do what’s necessary to do my work efficiently and productively, but I refuse to act as if I’m willing to give up all my love and affection to the great overlord of my employer. I’ll work hard, be loyal, deliver my best effort, and all I ask in return is payment and consideration for a raise or extra benefits. Nothing more.

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The 19th Holer
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The 19th Holer

This article hit way too close. I work for an international software company. We had our global meeting in February and the exact same thing as what you said. The worst thing our branch director has this phrase that only him and upper management like but its quite possibly has a cult-like tone to it as soon as you here it. Everyone makes fun of it to the point were we call ourselves “The church members” as a joke.