is this office culture cutting-edge or a cult?

A reader writes:

I recently saw an entry level job opening at a fairly new company that would be a great fit for me as long as the company isn’t a weird cult. The style of the job listing gave me pause. It was less explanatory about the role and more intensely vouching for the company culture.

For background, I’m looking to leave my first job out of college where I’ve been working for a year. I just don’t know much about the variation in office cultures out there. In my current industry (print journalism) starting pay is generally very low, ceiling for pay is also pretty low, turnover is high, and I’m basically perpetually on call during days I work. I’ve found the lack of distinction between work and personal life grueling.

An entry-level job at this other company pays about 20% higher than entry-level journalism positions would. I just can’t tell if the culture is cutting edge and passionate or if it’s actually a potentially very toxic environment.

In the job application, there are links to videos about who should and should not work at the company (which is referred to as “the tribe”). Several employees say it’s “not a job” but a lifestyle. One employee says you need to be able to hit deadlines and not make extra work for other “tribe members.” Another says you need to be able to accept if your ideas are dismissed as “outright wrong” and that the company changes quickly and “there’s no apology for it.” That same employee talks about setting your own boundaries because she was approaching burnout in the first couple months on the job. Others talk about bringing “your whole self” to the job, being ready to have your “mask” torn off, and being willing to ask others to “call you out for your weaknesses.” The CEO said in one of the videos that the culture is completely opposite of anywhere “you” have worked before, basically because it encourages personal connections and growth. Also, the company website’s first page is all about why it’s a great place to work and its second page is about the services it offers.

I enjoy working hard, improving and being vulnerable to a point, but why is this company working so hard to convince me the culture is outstanding and totally unique?

On the other hand, according to its website, this company has won awards from several magazines for being one of the top 20 or whatever best places to work in the state and in the country. It also offers six weeks of paid time off per year, which is more than triple what my current company offers, so that bodes well for work/life balance.

Is this awesome or should I run for the hills? And if it is awesome, why does it freak me out?

I’d lean toward running for the hills.

The stuff they’ve chosen to highlight in their videos are very … specific choices. Here’s how I’d interpret them:

* “It’s not a job, but a lifestyle” — You will be expected to work long hours, be on call 24/7, and have no boundaries between work and your personal life.

* “You need to be able to hit deadlines” — This is such a basic, unremarkable requirement that choosing to feature it in a recruitment video says something odd. Either their deadlines are unrealistic and unrelenting, or they like to think of themselves as special in ways they are not.

* “You need to be to accept it if your ideas are dismissed as outright wrong” — The fact that this is in their videos says they’re doing this regularly, which is weird, and that they don’t tolerate pushback. This is not a pleasant place to work.

* “The company changes quickly and there’s no apology for it” — They make things up as they go and what you were told yesterday will probably change tomorrow. (I’m interpreting this one in the context of the rest of it. There are companies you could describe this way where it would be less problematic — but grouped with all the rest of this? It’s going to be bad.)

* “I was approaching burnout in my first couple of months on the job” — Burnout will be your way of life.

* “Be ready to have your mask torn off” — Hi, this is a cult.

* “Be willing to ask others to call you out on your weaknesses” — Again, taken in the context of the rest of it, bad news. In a healthy culture, this can work fine. In this culture, it’ll be used against you. I would bet a large amount of money on it.

* “The culture is the opposite of anywhere you have worked before, because it encourages personal connections and growth” — This is not a unique thing. It is weird that they think this is a unique thing.

It’s also worth noting that in their staff photo of about 45 people, there is only one who isn’t white.  (Perhaps that’s why no one has realized that their usage of “tribe” is increasingly understood to be problematic, and companies are dropping it.)

Nearly everyone looks very young too — which is the sign of a company that deliberately hires inexperienced people because they’re more likely to put up with things that more experienced people won’t.

As for the company having won awards for being a good place to work, it’s important to know that those lists aren’t terribly reliable. The screening criteria they use tend to be limited (for example, the benefits package) and don’t include many of the factors that control whether somewhere actually is good or bad to work at (like quality of management or culture). Companies nominate themselves for consideration and submit info in a process that’s often managed by their marketing departments. So I wouldn’t put a ton of weight on that.

That said … I don’t know anything about this company other than the links you showed me. (Although a peek at their Glassdoor reviews makes me think I’m not off-base.) If you’re interested in the work, there’s no harm in applying, interviewing, and learning more. Just go in with a healthy amount of skepticism and do a ton of vetting of your own before making any decisions.

{ 459 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’ve removed a bunch of guesses below about what company this is. Letter-writers usually want to keep the companies they’re writing about anonymous, so please don’t post guesses here. Thank you!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Yup. Getting strong NXVIM vibes from the bits that OP and Alison highlighted.

      1. RC Rascal*

        This. As I was reading this, I was wondering if it was NXIVM.

        Maybe you will be required to dance outside Keith Raneire’s jail cell. Of course, you will probably have to be branded with a cauterizing pen first….

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      A good rule of thumb is if you’d run a flipping mile if someone put similar stuff in their dating profile. ‘You’ll be part of my tribe’ would have me swiftly blocking IP addresses.

      1. Sniffing Out Cults*

        Hi! I’m the asker on this one. I’m so relieved by the overwhelming “it’s a cult” response on here! Being inexperienced I didn’t know what to think but my gut was telling me this is weird. I didn’t look at that photo of all the staff but a large group of really young white people sounds like hell on its own lol.

        1. Your Local Password Resetter*

          Based on the stories I’ve seen here, you should always listen to your gut feelings.
          Digging deeper to figure out what’s setting off the alarm bells is always worthwile, even if it turns out to be false alarm.

    3. ScienceLady*

      OP, check out the “About” section of the company and Google the founders. There is a company that sounds a LOT like this one with a mid-2000s era quasi-famous cofounder who is a VERY questionable dude. If it is the same one, I can’t imagine working for that person would be a good experience!

    4. JJ*

      Yeah they def lost me at “tribe”. One of my clients uses similar verbiage and it is the worst and most cringe. Of course their leadership is super white also. Do betterrrrr

  2. Prof. Kat*

    I think the key here is what Alison pointed out: they made a CHOICE to feature this stuff in their job listing. They’re setting up a situation in which no matter how bad or inappropriate the work environment, they can claim well, you know what you signed up for, so that’s not our problem. Run away as fast as you can.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      The description is designed to screen out knowledgeable/experienced people. That’s frightening!

      1. Mayflower*

        To underscore this point, I would like to offer this excerpt from a Microsoft research paper:

        Why do Nigerian Scammers Say They are from Nigeria?

        Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor.

        1. Sara without an H*

          I kind of miss the Nigerian scammer emails. Some of them were wonderful short fiction.

          1. Zephy*

            I still occasionally get emails purporting to be from some bigwig’s widow with millions of dollars she wants to give to charity and needs me to help her by letting her put some of the money in my bank account for safekeeping. Same scam, different window dressing.

            1. sacados*

              I get the ones claiming that they know my password and hacked into my computer camera — so they’ve got a video of me like, watching porn or something, and unless I give them money they will release the video to all of my friends and family and contacts

              1. Admin 4 life*

                I get those too! It’s a bit creepy though because the subject line is an actual password I had at one point so it appears more legit. I use them as a reminder to update all my passwords every six months.

                1. sacados*

                  Yeah it was the same for me — it’s a very very old password (like from 15 years ag0) that I know from google security alerts has been involved in various data breaches. But in my case it was a password that I know was never used for anything “important” and also is one I have not used for probably the last 10 years at least.
                  So, not a super worrisome threat, haha.

              2. TardyTardis*

                Sometimes I’ve replied offering a handsome sum for such a recording, because I know my husband would really enjoy it. They never get back to me…

          2. Bartimaeus*

            I got one claiming to be from Mark Zuckerberg (yes, THAT Mark Zuckerberg), who was supposedly giving his fortune away. I’ll believe it when I see it!

            1. Your Local Password Resetter*

              I would believe a Nigerian prince before I believe a billionaire giving their fortune away!

          3. Arvolin*

            My personal favorite was one that said I was known for my honesty and integrity, and therefore they could trust me to carry out an illegal venture.

          4. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

            My favourite was purportedly from a cocoa heiress whose father had been poisoned to death by her wicked uncle.
            It was several paragraphs long, and felt like someone had fed an AI a whole bunch of scam emails and fairytales and gotten it to write a new one for them. Pretty sure I still have it saved somewhere for entertainment value.

          5. L*

            My brother received a handposted, physical version last week through snail mail! Apparently it’s Japanese solicitors now.

          6. Great Company you should trust*

            Hello, we have been trying to reach you about your extended car warranty that is about to expire.

        2. Oh No She Di'int*

          Right. This is also why many scammers don’t really worry about obvious inconsistencies and bad/inappropriate grammar for who they claim to be. It helps weed out people who know that such things are red flags.

        3. MassMatt*

          Likewise with the poor grammar and misspellings. They’re not accidental, they’re a deliberate technique to attract gullible people. IMO most multi-level marketing materials work the same way, and infomercials about making a fortune in real estate.

          I read a good book called The Long Con about the history of con artists. The best ones had their victims chasing after them, not to try to get them arrested, but to give them MORE money.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            Deliberate misspellings also get through spam filters. Which is curious because I’m more likely to open a correctly spelt and formatted email than one riddled with typos.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yes but people who can spell can often think too, and that’s not the type of person they’re interested in.

              1. Mayor of Llamatown*

                People who can spell are people who can spell. They’ve been able to achieve that skill.

                People who can spell can also think too. Sometimes they have physical disabilities or learning disabilities, like my spouse, who has dysgraphia and dyslexia but also has a law degree and passed the bar. Or they may not have achieved that level of education for a lot of reasons, often related to systemic issues, some of which do indeed make it harder for them to tell a scam from a true email.

                Either way, it’s a grift that preys on the marginalized in our society, and often not because they cannot think, and the stereotype that “people who think” can never get scammed perpetuates a secondary problem, that people who get scammed feel dumb and often don’t report it and never see justice.

        4. Caterpie*

          Interesting! I wonder if it’s the same with fake/predatory academic publishing as well. In grad school I got quite a few emails with awful grammar and spelling, usually opening with “To the Illustrious Dr. LastName” or similar. I wasn’t even a “Doctor” yet and was definitely not a huge (or medium) name in the field.

        5. Sniffing Out Cults*

          Hi, I’m the person who asked this question. This is really interesting and rings true to me. It definitely seems like they’re screening for young people who will put up with whatever and I think that’s why it creeped me out. I AM young and pretty much fresh out of college and I felt like the target of a trap.

        6. Pennyworth*

          About this time last year I received a few emails telling me I’d been awarded a payment hundreds of millions of Euros by the World Health Organisation, because ”Covid”. I guess they were designed to gather in the gullible in the same way.

      2. Elbe*

        Yes, for sure.

        Either they’re truly clueless about how dysfunctional this type of language makes them seem (and they think it’s just a huge coincidence that all of their applicants are young and without much work history) or they do this intentionally because they don’t want a knowledgeable employee to “disrupt” their practices by showing everyone how to a) set healthy boundaries and b) remove the company’s “mask” and c) quit if changes aren’t made.

        For all the talk about disruption and hearing hard truths and not making apologies, a lot of this language seems specifically designed to attract people who will put up with a lot without pushing back.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          To me it sounds like they could be abusive. Using honesty, hard truths, etc. as weapons.
          The whole thing makes my teeth hurt because I know this type – arrogant, condescending young men who think it’s their job to go around judging and criticizing everyone. Men like that are one of the reasons I’m single…

          1. 10Isee*

            The whole thing strongly reminds me of my ex, from whom I needed years of care to recover. The highlighting of unremarkable things (He would tell me, “I can’t date someone who doesn’t listen” or “I’m the kind of guy who needs my girl to care about me” all the time–turns out it was his way of saying “Do what I say and never question me”). The reconditioning (dating him was “a lifestyle” too, and I was to change anything about me that didn’t fit). And especially that vulnerability bit (I’m being honest because I love you, baby, if I didn’t tell you that you’re fat and stupid then how would you improve?). *shudder*

            1. Sniffing Out Cults*

              Asker on this question here: Definitely reminds me of a creepy boyfriend. Thank you so much for sharing guys. It’s so interesting how the same techniques crappy people use tin dating exist in job postings.

              1. DJ Abbott*

                Are you female or female-presenting? How many women are in their staff photo? All or mostly men is another red flag.
                Especially if they’re the type we’re talking about here – they’ll probably treat you in similar ways to the way they treat other women in their lives. Yikes.

          2. Elbe*

            I agree that the specific red flags that the language raises seem to fall in line with manipulative strategies that are emotionally damaging. I’m not sure if it’s gender-specific in this instance, but it certainly doesn’t sound healthy. Bad office cultures do often remind people of bad relationships.

            In this case, the whole “we’re a tribe/family” vibe is usually intended to control people. The implication here isn’t “You’re family, so we’ll help you out when you need us!” it’s “We’re family, so you have an obligation to us even when we’re horrible to you.” It’s the same logic used by people who use familial relationships as a club. It also sets the stage for the company to infringe on people’s time because, well, what is more important than family? How can you LET YOUR FAMILY DOWN by having a personal life or taking vacation?

            And a lot of the language seems to be presented up-front as a way of shutting down complaints later on. Like, “We told you we’d point out your flaws, so why are you complaining about 24/7 constant criticism?” Or, “We’d told you we’d remove your mask, so when you complain about us misrepresenting your personality/character/values, we get to disregard your feelings because that’s just you being resistant to having the ‘mask’ removed.”

            If someone I knew was entering a relationship where this type of language was being used, I’d also tell them to run. A lot of it sounds super manipulative, like the company is positioning itself to know what’s better for the employee than the employee does.

          3. C-Suite Diva*

            It’s not just young men! I had the truly unpleasant experience of working for a narcissistic woman who would LOVE this company description – she could have written it! In fact, she might have.

            It was not quite a cult, but it wasn’t far off either. *Shudder*

        2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          Even if it’s not intentionally written to trap inexperienced workers who won’t push back, it’s certainly the result of a company looking first and foremost for “culture fit”. Either way, they’re looking for people exactly like everyone who already works there.

    2. Zennish*

      This. My first “career” job made a big deal of how you had to be “100% on mission” and “comfortable with ambiguity” and this has that same vibe. (In that case, it meant “You will follow orders and not offer any input.” and “You will be held to vague, unexplained standards, penalized if you fail to meet them, and penalized if you ask for help or clarification on meeting them.”) When jobs go out of the way to use phrasing like this, it generally means the worst possible thing you think it means.

      1. StoneColdJaneAusten*

        I have absolutely found myself in a job where the job description was written in a way that part of the job was compensating for the boss’ management weaknesses. These have never been good jobs.

      2. Decima Dewey*

        I once worked for someone who said in her first staff meeting that she believed in “excellent customer service.” Which she never defined.

        Hey, nobody’s going to say “I disagree. I think we should provide slipshod service and cut corners wherever we can.” But there can be multiple definitions of “excellent public service.”

      3. Sacred Ground*

        “To succeed here, you have to be comfortable with ambiguity.”
        “Ok, so what exactly does that entail?”
        “…I don’t think this is the right fit.”

    3. yala*

      I’m reminded of folks who go out of their way early on in a relationship to say how edgy and “not for everyone” their sense of humor is, or the classic “if you can’t handle me at my worst” (in that particularly meme-y way)…they’re telling you who they are, but presenting it as an enticing challenge–Can YOU be the person who is Special Enough to Endure?

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        oh damn yeah that was the challenge an ex set me and I was stupid enough to waste two years of my life trying to meet it.

      2. Autism Dad*

        Yes! Like the people who say how honest they are and how “they tell it like it is.”

        They never (ever) mean that they’re honestly going to tell you how great something is. It’s just their excuse to be negative and cruel.

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      YEP. Let’s all be the woman who waits so the murderer doesn’t attack you in the parking lot.

    1. AGD*

      Love this mental image! I envisioned it and a bunch of shrieking violins sounded up on the mental soundtrack.

  3. glitter writer*

    Absolutely run for the hills. Your gut is right about it not being a healthy working environment.

    (Also, as someone who has had an extensive journalism career, I can say that there are MANY digital outfits that aren’t cults that will pay better than print.)

    1. Sniffing Out Cults*

      Hi, I’m the asker of this questions. Thanks so much for this comment. Gives me some hope!

  4. Brooks Brothers Stan*

    I didn’t just get cult vibes from what was described here. I got very specific “the owner thinks he is Vince McMahon” vibes.

    1. Anne Elliot*

      Two things. First, generous leave policies are not worth much if you are placed in a situation where you can’t take the leave, either due to a crushing workload or due to cultural pressure. Second, saying “we ‘tear masks off,’ tell people they’re ‘outright wrong,’ and ‘call you out for your weaknesses,’ and we do so ‘without apologizing,” translates to “we are assholes, and we confuse meanness and bullying for honesty and efficiency.” There is nothing inherently wrong with working with and for assholes if you think you can tolerate it and you know that’s what you’re doing but, assuming that is not you jam, that’s what this sort of double-speak means. And that’s the Vince McMahon part of it.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        “Tearing masks off” can be taken figuratively and literally. I agree, run away!

        1. ThatOnePlease*

          Yes, besides the immense red flags waving everywhere, “be ready to have your mask torn off” is a *terrible* line to use right now in your hiring materials! But I would not be shocked if this company also has a looney tunes stance on COVID safety.

          1. lizw*

            That was actually my first thought, then I remembered it could be used as a metaphor. Man, 2020-21 has warped my perceptions.

      2. Jackalope*

        Yes, this is such a good summary of that whole section. I have had to hear unpleasant truths at work. I am familiar with jobs in which regular blunt feedback is the norm and everyone has to be able to deal with it. But if they are underlining over and over the ways in which they act unkind and expect you to just roll with it, then they are looking for people they can be jerks to. Even bluntness doesn’t have to involve meanness.

      3. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

        You are so right about the vacation time. To people who know better, it combined with all the other flags tell us that you’ll never be able to use that time. To less experienced people who aren’t hearing all of the other clanging alarm bells, it seems like a great perk

        1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          They might be including legal holidays and even partial weekend time. Like the place I worked that listed Social Security contributions as a benefit, so now I always scrutinize the way places use words.

      4. Zelda*

        “we are assholes, and we confuse meanness and bullying for honesty and efficiency.”

        Or rather, ‘we hope *you* will be willing to accept it under the guise of honesty and efficiency, because we really actively enjoy being mean to people we have power over.’

      5. Kella*

        Also, all those turns of phrase imply that they criticize *you* or some inherent quality to your ideas, rather than specific behaviors or the utility of your ideas. That is typically a very unhelpful version of criticism and also way more personal than is merited at a workplace.

      1. Sniffing Out Cults*

        Kella, great point. I’m the asker on this one. All of the phrases they use point to personal digs rather than really engaging with ideas. Also sounds like hell to be in an environment where people are guessing on who the true you and the masked you are and then enforcing that you be “your whole self.” Like what the hell? These people haven’t even met me and they’re calling me fake and will somehow be able to identify my fakeness and “tear it off” when we do meet??? What??

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I love what Alison says about a job ad tells you what skills are needed for a job. This is just a list of what they are going to do to your soul once you get there. Clearly they are looking for emotionless, robotic, insomniacs with doormat characteristics.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            There’s a hint of “negging” here, like they’re selecting for people whose mental condition, whether depression or anxiety or for whatever reason just have super low self-esteem that makes them ripe for exploitation or even abuse.

            Anyone want to bet the CEO reads PUA books? (Pick-Up Artist books, that is, the horrible kind that literally teach men how to identify and exploit vulnerable women.)

    1. Web Crawler*

      In this case, yes. In general, ehhhh. I’ve seen too many LGBT support groups called cults by homophobic parents to agree with you

      1. anonymous for this due to location mention*

        I’m not doubting this, but I’m a bit surprised to hear it. When I was a teen in the late 90s/early 00s (in a rural-ish Cali town), I certainly heard a lot about homosexual “recruitment” but never heard our support groups called cults.
        That was accusation was reserved for the goth kids.

  5. Dennis Feinstein*

    This company sounds like The Circle.
    Please apply and then send an update to AAM if you get an interview because it’s bound to be hilarious/creepy.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I know, right? I’d love to hear the LW’s description of their interview. (Maybe you can write an article about it?)

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I googled The Circle and came up with a few options – there’s a movie and a netflix reality show that seem most likely?

      1. Anonymous Koala*

        I think this is referring to the movie, which is about a company with a Facebook-on-steroids product that sucks it’s employees into its cult culture.

        1. Lies, damn lies and...*

          Which was originally a book that I found insulting to the intelligence of anyone under 50.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            IT WAS SO ANNOYING. Just so preachy but also aimed at exactly the people who know the downsides being discussed? It had this weird “gotcha!” tone to it that I found really grating.

            1. HungryLawyer*

              OMG exactly! And the protagonist was just a horrendous example of “male author who has clearly never met a woman before writes female lead.” 0/10

          2. Elbe*

            The book has an interesting setup, but it wasn’t done as well as it could have been. I couldn’t finish it. Too long, too meandering, not enough substance.

            1. Heavenly nostrils*

              The premise was good, but the execution was sooooo heavy handed. I felt like they were beating me over the head all the time.

          3. Scarlet2*

            Omg, it was picked by my book club a few years ago, I gave up about 100 pages in (because it’s a loooong book even though it has basically nothing to say) and we all agreed that it looked like it had been written by a boomer who had just discovered the Internet and wanted to warn everyone about Privacy! like no-one had ever thought about it before.

            Insulting is the right word.

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        The book/movie is what they’re referencing here. Kind of a take on Google/FB/cult-y tech giants.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      Glad I’m not the only one rooting for the LW to apply just to report back on the process and what they heard, how their questions were answered, etc.

      I mean, if you have time on your hands that you’re willing to sacrifice for the entertainment of a bunch of people you don’t know, that is.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        Yikes! Don’t use the word “sacrifice” when referring to a possible cult! OP can’t report back if they’ve been sacrificed. ;)

  6. Tess*

    If I feel an intense need to munch on popcorn as I read about descriptions like these, it’s a sure sign that something is way off.

    “Tribe”? I mean…come on.

    1. Allegra*

      “Tribe” is such a red flag to me these days. Like…if you’re still using it, that tells me you are not having certain internal conversations.

    2. Nope, not today*

      I live in Cleveland Ohio – even HERE people are finally realizing it is problematic!!! (there has been very intense denial of this for eons). Last week a local school was doing “tribe day” – i.e., wear your baseball shirts to school day. That was normal through last year, but this time around parents wrote in, the principal apologized, ‘tribe day’ isnt a thing that will happen here again. That this company, who doesnt have this weird baseball related nostalgia like Clevelanders do, can’t get see that it is a problem is concerning…

    3. Instructional Designer*

      Just last week I was reviewing an eLearning course for a company that calls their employees “tribe members.” When I read it, it immediately gave me pause. It feels wrong but I wasn’t sure if it was genuinely problematic or if I was being sensitive.

      1. Savaphoong*

        I’m pushing back on “tribe.” As a Native American, I know that tribe is a word that applies to more than just the Native American culture. I would be wary of a company using the word to describe its employees, but it isn’t a word that can only be used us. Don’t use it if you aren’t comfortable using it, but don’t attack someone else who uses it (as long as the way they are using it isn’t clearly mocking or demeaning.)

  7. Franz Kafkaesque*

    I bet the leaders of this company believe they are really “disrupting” the idea of company culture. Probably lots of other faux Silicon Valley BS as well.

    1. Elbe*

      My gut instinct is that management here is absolutely insufferable. They’re probably that type of person who is so focused on “disrupting” the norms, that they never stop to consider why those norms might exist.

      1. Franz Kafkaesque*

        My feeling exactly. They are so determined to “think outside the box” they don’t even know what was in the box to begin with.

        1. Elbe*

          Yes! It’s more about their image of themselves as a rule-breaker and a disrupter than it is a genuine effort to change things to be more functional. They honestly don’t care if they create a more dysfunctional workplace as long as they can claim that they “disrupted” something.

          One of the most annoying trends in recent years has been the shift in mindset toward “disruption” being considered a universal good. It’s not. It’s neither all good or all bad – it depends on what is being disrupted and how. And there are a ton of people who don’t want to bother with the nuance of that.

          1. Wintermute*

            I read a great presentation about hacker conferences and norms that really cemented how I look at it, and it basically said the same thing you are– “we do things different” is powerful, but you should be intentionally transgressive not reflexively transgressive: look at what norm you are breaking, why the norm exists, who breaking it privileges and who it disadvantages, and look at the what effect it may have on your culture and who finds it suits them, and who finds it is incompatible with them. You need to be carefully intentional.

            All businesses have a culture, if you do not create it deliberately you will create it accidentally, and if you create it accidentally you may find the people that fit into your culture aren’t that great for your business, or that it creates perverse incentives to counterproductive or actively destructive behavior.

        2. Mockingjay*

          I interviewed several times with a software database company that lacked comprehensive test and documentation strategies. I come from a DoD industry that has implemented standard software test methodologies and data banks across multiple agencies, with a high success rate. I was exactly what they needed. But several of the interviewers couldn’t get past that I worked for “Big Government” (they’d obviously watched too many movies – trust me, Google and Amazon are “Big Brother,” not the USG) and were afraid I wouldn’t fit in with their coffeehouse vibe (Starbucks in the lobby for real). Nevermind that their software had a high failure rate, was patched beyond belief, and was rarely delivered on time…

          Kind of glad I didn’t get to the offer stage, although it would have been interesting to see what they thought I was worth.

          Ironically, my company has picked up several of their employees who were fleeing that place.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Yes, this. I’ve worked for start ups that were Wild West until they grew up a little and realized they had to have old fashioned policies on things like harassment or open themselves up to lawsuits.

        There’s nothing in the OP’s description of the company that makes me think it’s a stable or healthy work environment.

    2. Malarkey01*

      This could be colored by some recent consulting I did to help out recent young start ups and I don’t want to start generation bashing, but this sounded so incredibly similar to two different Gen Z startups. They kept emphasizing that they were doing business “differently than their parents” and were pumped and using all of this language. In reality they were very young and inexperienced and either doing things the same with different names or doing completely unworkable things.

      1. OhNo*

        I’ve never worked for a start-up, but from hearing about some over the last few years, I have to wonder how much of that is due to the owners/workers having never worked at a “regular” job. When you claim that something is new or revolutionary or disruptive when literally every company with more than 5 employees has it, just under a more boring name, I start to assume they’ve just spent too much time in their own head thinking up great ideas without bothering to check if someone else has had them first.

        1. RubberDuck*

          I don’t think this is a generational thing, except that most young / inexperienced founders are now GenZ. I would be willing to bet that in 10 years, the new generation will be doing the exact same thing…

          And honestly, we’ve seen millennial startups go through the same reckoning. This is just part of being new at making or working at companies and then starting one without any experience under your belt.

          1. Nanani*

            This. It’s not generational, it’s perennial in the set with enough privilege and capital for their first job to be a bro startup.

        2. Wintermute*

          It reminds me of “serious lit” authors that try their hand at science fiction, only to re-create a story trope that to them seems like they’re the most brilliant writer alive, but in reality is so familiar to genre fans that it induces groans and eye rolls. They just don’t know any better, they think their ideas are amazing because they don’t realize just how commonplace they are, how thoroughly explored, and how shopworn.

          it’s so well-known that Bruce Sterling’s master list of terms and definitions for sci/fi writer workshops, The Turkey City Lexicon, warns against it.

          The same thing happens with amateur philosophers and in plenty of other fields.

  8. D-Fresh*

    It’s nice of them to put so many red flags about their workplace culture right in their recruiting materials. Head. For. The. Hills.

    1. Elbe*

      I have a feeling that they’re specifically trying to attract people who are very young and/or very desperate.

      Anyone who could read this and not see the red flags is probably a young person who has no work experience. And anyone who could see the red flags and accept the job anyway is probably pretty in need of the income.

    2. Harper the Other One*

      I have a friend currently working for a large and surprisingly dysfunctional company. Oh their recruiting materials, they talked up the sabbatical you’re eligible for after five years of service by saying “it’s such a good time to refresh and reprioritize that almost nobody comes back!”

      She didn’t tell me about this until recently. If she had, I would have pointed out what a HUGE red flag it is that getting to spend some time away from an organization results in people almost universally quitting.

  9. StressedButOkay*

    ruuuuuun. There are so many red flags you can see it from space. The 20% increase in pay is not worth your sanity down the road!

  10. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    There are so many companies that are completely toxic and at least this one has the courtesy to tell you up front that it is a bat-guano crazy place to work. Who in their right mind would include in their RECRUITING literature that an employee was burning out after just their first few MONTHS???? As if that is a good thing, you should be excited to have happen to you? They basically straight up told you that that 6 weeks of PTO? You’ll never get to use it.

    1. OhNo*

      Seriously! That is an absolutely wild choice of a statement to include when trying to promote your workplace. I’m all for companies being honest about their standards, so applicants can make informed decisions, but this is… I mean, they included it in what is essentially their marketing materials, for goodness’ sake. What kind of person thinks that statement is good marketing? And what does that say about how they run the company?

  11. Anonnnnnnn*

    I’m 99% sure I know what company this post is referring to, and actually I’ve had nothing but positive experiences working for and with them.

    1. MK*

      Then what is all this insanity in the recruiting materials? Because the picture painted is of a truly dysfunctional place. Is this just a PR person running wild and the actual workplace is normal?

    2. D3*

      Do tell then, what did you enjoy about having your mask ripped off? About trying to hit deadlines when things change without apology? About your job being expected to be a lifestyle?
      And why do they think this is a good recruiting style?

    3. merp*

      I am also extremely sure I know the place this is referring to, ran across them looking for job listings. I had the same question this letter writer did, though, because the page sounds pretty unhinged. I’m ok with some mildly culty vibes from some team members as long as I don’t really have to partake and there are enough other benefits, but I couldn’t tell what the deal was with this place. I also really wanted to send them a quick email re: using tribe.

    4. AspiringGardener*

      Why did they focus so much on employee recruitment vs marketing to clients? That alone is a huge red flag.

    5. Observer*

      I’m 99% sure I know what company this post is referring to

      Interesting. What makes you so sure?

      1. merp*

        for me, the details are just extremely recognizable – not just the “tribe” thing but the amount of time off, the videos, the phrases. unless some of the letter is made up, this all matches a company page I have seen in the last couple months.

    6. No Name #1*

      This comment reminds me of one of those comments written by management/executives that will show up on Glassdoor under the guise of being from an employee.
      Anonnnnn hasn’t given us any context, but if they were a contractor they most likely had a very different experience than people who work there in the office pre-covid full time. An organization I worked for had negative comments on Glassdoor except for one which was written by a contractor who worked remotely 2 hours away. It’s a very different experience when you are expected to be “part of the tribe” with toxic managers & coworkers 40 hours a week plus whatever extra time this company is expecting people to work.

      1. Sleepless*

        Haha, yeah, there’s an infamous company in my industry whose ex employees give mixed reviews to at best. In an industry specific social media group I’m in, once in awhile somebody will post that they just started working there and it’s WONDERFUL, I feel sorry for all of you that don’t work there, message me for more details on how you can start working there too. It’s kind of creepy.

      1. Elbe*

        Maybe this is a bit off-topic, but it seems like the “top places to work for” lists are being irresponsible. If you publish something specifically designed to encourage people to join a company, don’t you have a responsibility to vet them beyond what exists on paper? Or at least rename it to “places with top benefits”?

        It sounds like they’re intentionally generalizing their grand claims to increase their circulation but not doing any type of due diligence before they publish.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Well, a lot of these companies also pressure employees to respond a certain way. There was a company I really wanted to look for that consistently topped those lists in my old city, and when I started reading Glassdoor reviews (which I started doing earlier in the process after this experience) it was absolutely horrifying.

          1. Elbe*

            True, but shouldn’t there be an effort to reach out to past employees or to factor in Glassdoor reviews? If they’re only getting feedback from current employees, they know there’s room for manipulation by the company.

            It just seems like there’s some way they could do better. This company has red flags seemingly everywhere and they’re winning these awards ..?

            1. Krabby*

              I think that you’re missing the point. Most of these lists are basically paid ads that companies run every year. They’re revenue for the newspaper/magazine/etc. There are a few exceptions to that, but generally you should look at all of those “Best Places to Work” lists as paid advertising.

              1. OhNo*

                This. A local magazine where I live features a big fancy “best places to work” spread every year. I thought it was interesting, at first, until I saw that it was (inconspicuously) marked as an advertisement and dug in to read the fine print disclaimer about the section. Companies either pay to be featured, or pay for consideration, and ever since I realized that I’m super skeptical of anything similar.

                I’m also suspicious of a lot of those ratings for companies’ policies on LGBTQ workers for similar reasons. I was working at a firm and sat in on a few meetings while they were applying for one such program, and they were hyping up the fact that they were being upgraded to the “gold” level based on their insurance policies and contract language… all while I was being misgendered on a daily basis, on purpose, by people in the office. Most of those rankings rely on things that are quantifiable and can be easily measured and compared, which means there are a lot of extremely important things that get missed.

              2. Elbe*

                I’m not missing the point. I’m saying that it’s irresponsible and potentially unethical.

          2. BigTenProfessor*

            YUUUUP. I worked somewhere that made employees fill out the surveys practically under duress.

          3. Milennielle*

            I worked for one of these companies for a while. It was terrible–low pay, crappy benefits, and long hours. Most of us were misclassified as exempt so they didn’t pay overtime. It was a startup and had one of those “we’re all family!” attitudes and told us we had it so good because we got discounted gym memberships. We filled out those “best places to work” surveys on our work computers (open office, naturally) with the owner in the room. I was told at one point that the company didn’t do raises unless the employee explicitly asked for one, which is why the one guy who had been there 3+ years was still making $35k (in NYC) since he was not very assertive. I was 21 at the time (nearly all of the employees were just out of college) and definitely didn’t know better.

            I have no idea how we ended up getting the surveys in the first place, except that the owner/founder was the son of someone relatively famous in the industry and was very well connected.

        2. knitcrazybooknut*

          To me, it’s just another way that publishers sell copies. It’s not a Consumers Digest situation, where their entire purpose is to be honest about the product. It’s something they can publish that will get people to read it. Even working in academic settings, those “Best Colleges” lists come out every year, and it was a major push the month before to pull every bit of favorable data into one submission. I wouldn’t be surprised if the private sector involved some payola as well.

        3. Beth Jacobs*

          Maybe, but what you going to do? I’m not sure if there’s an exact way to rank places to work. Your happiness in any job will be most affected by your direct manager and a couple of your closest coworkers. That’s really hard to quantify.

          1. Elbe*

            I think that this blog is doing great work by providing transparency into how the lists are made. It would be great if other work blogs, career centers, college career guidance centers, etc. would follow suit. The list are only generating revenue for the publisher because the people seeking them out don’t know how useless they are.

        4. MassMatt*

          IME some if not most “top places to work” type lists are pretty worthless. I get many solicitations from places I’ve never heard of asking me to “apply” and there’s generally a fee or mandatory advertising to buy. Whenever you see one of these, ask yourself where you’ve ever heard of the publication or organization except for this context. My city has a prominent magazine that is pretty widely known, they give out awards in various categories which businesses display but IMO there’s still too much of a potential pay-to-play issue to put much stock in them.

          1. MissBaudelaire*

            The biggest employer in my area will advertise how lovely it is to work for them, and I always wonder if they think the big fancy commercials will drown out all the people who have worked there, and also loudly tell anyone who listens how awful it is and why.

        5. A Genuine Scientician*

          I think they have their place when they’re targeted and specific.

          When the Human Rights Campaign puts out a list of Fortune 500 Companies With The Best Track Record On LGBT+ Inclusion or the like, that can be meaningful data.

          When Generic Chamber of Commerce puts out a list of Best Companies To Work For, it’s something of a different story.

    7. Sniffing Out Cults*

      Anonnnnnnn I’m the letter writer on this one. Thank you so much for commenting! I’d really love to hear more. If you have only had good experiences, some of the red-flag phrases must not translate into work the way a lot of commenters, Alison and I have interpreted them. What does the mask statement really refer to? What about the lifestyle-not-a-job piece? What do these things look like in action?

      I got an email this morning that I’m not in the running — assuming no connection to the post this morning. At this point I’m just curious.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        s/You ask well respected people, like Alison, for advice. This is totally NOT acceptable./s

        1. Sniffing Out Cults*

          I’m not asking Anonnn for advice just wondering about their perspective because it’s surprising!

  12. HoHumDrun*

    Cult or not this sounds like a nightmare. I would never apply to work at a job that seeks to dictate what kind of personality I ought to have to please them best. These job listings always give me “team sports in a small town” vibes, and let’s just say there’s a reason why I don’t live in my small town anymore.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      This. And even in a small town, I have the entire rest of that town full of people to make personal connections with *outside* of work!

      I’d also be very skeptical of suggestions for “growth” coming from my employer…unless we’re specifically talking about continuing professional education or something of that sort.

  13. MassMatt*

    I agree with Alison, odds are good that the company is toxic and cultish. If you do pursue it (because you need the job or because it seems the potential pros outweigh the cons) I would ask a lot of questions in the interview and try to talk to/shadow with people you’d be working with.

    Ask about turnover–what happened to the last person with this job? The person before that? If they were promoted within the company or went on to bigger opportunities elsewhere, great. If you are told they quit or “couldn’t hack it” that’s a red flag.

    Ask coworkers what they did or where they went with all their vacation time. When did they last take a vacation? How long was it for? How often did they check their emails or do other work while on vacation? It may be the company offers lots of vacation but makes it all but impossible to actually take it.

    Ask LOTS of questions.

    1. JM in England*

      And if they seem dismissive or reluctant to answer questions, that’s another big red flag!

    2. No Name #1*

      Yup, I made this comment below but I interpret the part about the company changing all the time as “we have very high turnover”. I mean, it could mean plenty of other things but having worked at a different type of organization that basically had a revolving door, describing it as constantly changing seems like a good euphemism. If it said something like “We are a fast-growing startup” that would be one thing, but the weird defensiveness indicates something different to me.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        As someone with a degree in communication, I was actually reading that more along the lines of how radio stations will randomly change like… overnight from being Top 40 to Country or something. Though, to be fair, I got my degree 20 years ago and things may have changed greatly in that industry since then.

        1. Anonapots*

          The radio stations now usually (not always) give some sort of indication. “Starting on Thursday, May 9th, KWIP Hot 100 will become KUIP Hot Country” or similar.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I would say if you do decide to apply (applying is NOT accepting a job.) Just remember- it’s NOT unprofessional to turn down a job. It is NOT unprofessional to ask questions. It is NOT unprofessional to need time to think over an offer. It is NOT unprofessional to pull out from a job pool. These are all things I wish someone had told me when I was just out of college.

      1. Sniffing Out Cults*

        Thanks Librarian, I’m the letter writer here. Definitely good to keep in my mind but I learned this morning they do not want to interview. (Boo hoo)

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Six weeks paid vacation is most likely false as well. In the sense you’ll never make it to the point of using vacation or they’d never actually approve it.

    That’s common in a place that grinds their workers so hard. They offer it but good luck utilizing that.

    1. turquoisecow*

      Yeah I was thinking it’s like those places that offer unlimited PTO but in reality people actually take less time off than if you just gave them two weeks or whatever.

    2. Le Sigh*

      Or they approve time off, but only if you’re technically on call the whole time. Or if you get all of your regular work done ahead of time and double up on hours to get it all done. Or they’ll approve some time off, but not nearly six weeks, and you’ll get guilt trips and competitions between employees about how they haven’t taken a sick or vacation day in a year.

    3. Autism Dad*

      The OP said “six weeks paid time off.” Most likely it’s intentional misleading by the company. There are 10 federal holidays — that’s 2 “weeks.” The other 4 weeks are likely a combination of vacation and sick time.

      (I say this coming from a company that trumpets “3 weeks paid time off,” but doesn’t mention that sick time is included in that, so you actually get 3 weeks off only if you never take a sick day.

  15. Campfire Raccoon*

    If this isn’t a deliberate cult, then the owner/CEO is an unaware narcissistic chucklehead. I’m not sure which is worse.

  16. Susana*

    Also, LW… I know being an entry-level person in print journalism sucks in lots of ways (I was one!). But being “on call” on days you work isn’t because they’re taking advantage of you. It’s because news happens 24/7. (and if they’re not calling you on your days off, that’s impressive). A good news org will give you some down time if you end up having to work off-hours.
    I’m not saying it’s for everyone – it’s not. But part of the excitement of the news biz is also the downside, that it’s not predictable.

    And if you stay, your income and vaycay will get bigger.

    1. ThatGirl*

      I spent 4 years in journalism. I admire my colleagues who stayed. I think journalism is an extremely necessary career and I want journalists to be well-paid and respected.

      But man, it’s a rough job to be in. And sure, your income might grow. But it might not – a lot of print journo’s salaries are essentially flat over the past 10 years, thanks to hedge funds buying up papers left and right and cutting jobs in the interest of nothing but profit.

      OP, there are better-paying jobs out there that don’t demand all of your free time, if you want to get out, you can do better.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I loved journalism, but I was fortunate to get the boot from it before things got really bad/expendable.

        1. StoneColdJaneAusten*

          Same on all counts. Well, maybe things were really bad already. But either way…

    2. Clisby*

      I worked almost 14 years in print journalism, and for much of that, I agree. It’s not that my employers had me on call 24/7 for random assignments. It’s that if you were the reporter who covered county government, and usually worked M-F but on Saturday County Council called an emergency meeting to fire the top 5 county employees, you bet you’ll be called in. And you’ll work all through the weekend on it. If someone isn’t up for that, I have no idea why they went into journalism.

      All the culture stuff sounds pretty strange to me, though. One of the things I loved about journalism was what a strange, diverse group of people wound up working together.

    3. content lady*

      Former journalist here. Content marketing is a more lucrative way to use this skill set–and as a journalist, you can find jobs as marketing copywriter. It’s not reporting, but it’s providing info & education to consumers in an editorial way. You don’t need to join a cult to do it, either. ;-)

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I echo the part about why being “on call” is required and not to take advantage of anyone.

      However we don’t want to act like the OP is fully in charge of their destiny though. They may opt to stay and then find themselves laid off in the future. With a choice to stay in the industry only if you are able to relocate to an area that has openings, which may or may not be close by.

      Your income should always be growing if you stay but it’s the speed in which it grows that matters to a lot of individuals with bills to pay! How long can she afford to wait to be able to afford a car or to live alone, etc. Those were two things that my journos struggled with and why they decided to leave the profession in the end after a lot of struggle on their part since they loved the job but needed stability and increased quality of life.

    5. Spearmint*

      “And if you stay, your income and vaycay will get bigger.”

      This isn’t necessarily true in journalism though. The number of journalism jobs, especially in print, have been shrinking year over year since the Great Recession. It’s not a stable career path in this day and age unless you’re a superstar.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yeah. I left that world behind years ago, largely because I ultimately didn’t care for it. But also because the trajectory wasn’t great — a few at the very top got bigger salaries and vacay, but the rest of us faced constant rounds of layoffs, salary cuts, and low, stagnating salaries.

        1. Sniffing Out Cults*

          Hi folks, I’m the letter writer. I appreciate the pace and value of journalism but this particular company and role are not sustainable ones to stick with. My editors are great people who are not at fault for a serious issue with understaffing. And yes, it’s exciting, but it’s also depressing as I am writing mostly about tragedies. (Like, I’ve seen several corpses of recently murdered people this year. This weekend I interviewed a young guy 20 minutes after his kid brother died.) My pay is about $1.50 an hour more than minimum wage in my state. That would maybe be ok with the promise of growth but all the reporters on my staff are young. Boss told me straight, there is no potential for a raise at this organization. The passion I have for storytelling and interviewing does not outweigh the combo of facing constant tragedy plus no potential for a more reasonable income.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Oh gosh, OP. I’m so sorry. You deserve a non-cult place to work where you can get paid enough to talk to someone about all the things you’ve seen for work. Fingers crossed that you find a new job soon!

            1. Sniffing Out Cults*

              Thank you so much Clever Name! I really appreciate the support in these comments!!

          2. DJ Abbott*

            A passion for storytelling and interviewing? Hmm… there may be ways to do that without working in print journalism. It takes a long time to break in, but you’re young and if you start working toward it now, you might get somewhere.
            My favorite comedian is Gabriel Iglesias, a great storyteller. If you did standup you’d be cheering people up and not dealing with tragedy (I hope), which would be good!
            Or the people who interview on talk shows and TV news… I know it’s challenging to rise that high, but maybe there’s a way to start at a local level, or some kind of career path? Maybe even do your own videos independently and post them?

            Generally news is designed to scare people so they’ll keep watching/reading. It’s not a coincidence that it’s all tragedy. I could never watch much, and even less since 2015 when I had to stop because it was making me sick.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              OP, this sounds like it could work into a longer discussion for you, if you posted on the Friday work thread. People here have awesome ideas, like DJ above.

  17. EPLawyer*


    The videos are by the people who work there and they are flat out telling you, while appearing to hype the company so they don’t get fired, that this place is a toxic cult.

    If someone CHOOSE to mention they were approaching burnout in a PROMOTIONAL VIDEO believe them that this place thrives on burning people out.

    Be willing to be told you are wrong. The CEO is always right and you can’t convince him otherwise.

    Have your mask ripped off/weakness pointed out — you will be mocked and ridiculed if you don’t buy into the bro culture, are in ANY way different from anyone else.

    Good companies don’t do this. They lay out the job description and the salary band (not all of them, but we are going with how do you tell a good company). You have a clear means to apply.

    1. Nea*

      I twigged to the bit about the mask too. “Having your mask ripped off” isn’t even a hidden code for “we will denigrate every boundary you have and interest outside of our mandated ones.” Ditto “called out for your weakness” – again, a not-hidden code for “we will attack like rabid weasels if you drop out of lockstep.”

      OP, run far, run fast, run screaming@

      1. LKW*

        I took the “called out” comment as code for “We do not require anyone show common courtesy or respect for one another.” but rabid weasels sounds about right too.

  18. The Original K.*

    I was through at “tribe,” and actually shook my head and said aloud “Uh-uh, nope” when I read “not a job but a lifestyle.” This is all pointing with a huge neon flashing arrow to “they will work you like a dog and tell you you should be grateful for it, or call you weak if you try to set boundaries.”

    1. Ama*

      I’m currently job hunting and several times already I’ve abandoned job postings midway through reading them if there are too many buzzwords or trendy phrases in their language — to me that screams “more concerned about sounding cool than actually thinking about what this job is and who is a good candidate for it.” This job description would absolutely have been one of those.

  19. Jennifer*

    This reminds me of the WeWork documentary I just watched. That company definitely came off like a cult with a charismatic leader, and guess what? All that tribe nonsense went out the door when he managed the company horribly and had to lay off thousands. I know you’re unhappy at your current job but this will not be an improvement. Keep searching.

    1. Kiki*

      Yes! I just watched the We Work documentary this weekend and finished reading Billion Dollar Loser a few weeks ago. Even if not a full cult, companies with this sort of vibe don’t tend to do well longterm

    2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      Came here to say this. Are we sure this isn’t a company started by the same guy? Because it sounds exactly like the same guy.


  20. Colette*

    If the OP decides to pursue this, here are some questions I’d consider asking:
    – you give 6 weeks vacation – how do people usually take that? Do they tend to use it all at once, or do they do multiple short vacations? How do you cover people who are out for 6 weeks (depending on the previous answer, of course)?
    – Why is this job open? Was it attrition, growth, …?
    – In the recruiting video, several people say it’s not a job but a lifestyle. What does that mean, exactly?
    – What challenges is this team facing?

    1. D3*

      Since OP is a reporter, I kind of want him to apply, interview, ask these questions and do an expose writeup!

      1. Elbe*

        Yesssssssss! I would read that for sure. I find this level of dysfunction fascinating, as long as I can view it safely from the outside.

    2. Western Rover*

      I wonder if an approach might be “With how rapidly the company changes, do you keep updated written guides to company processes in case the person I might need to ask how to do something is in the middle of a six-week vacation?”
      If the answer is “Don’t worry, you can call and ask someone on vacation if it’s an ’emergency'”, run.

  21. Mshiiken*

    This is absolutely a predatory workplace and I’m nth-ing the calls to run for the hills, but I wanted to say thanks too to Alison for pointing out that using ‘tribe’ to describe the workplace is problematic! The use of that term in what seems to be a very non-Indigenous space definitely rubs me the wrong way (and along with everything else is a marker that this isn’t a place you want to spend a lot of time at).

    1. Naomi*

      On top of being problematic in that way, the “tribe” thing also sounds like a repackaging of “we’re like a family here!” with the same subtext of expecting inappropriate emotional investment from employees.

    2. ambivalent*

      Genuine question, what’s wrong with “tribe” exactly? Is the word considered racist or something, or just that it sounds too intimate for the workplace? I think I’ve seen this word used to just mean the same kind of thing as ‘it takes a village’ but is that not correct? I’m not American though I live in the US, has this word taken on some special meaning?

        1. MassMatt*

          I don’t think the issue is cultural appropriation, I think it’s more that a)It is too similar to “we’re like family here!”; there will be a lack of boundaries, and b)it’s often a code word for “we hire people that look like we do”–this is the issue Alison was alluding to in her response, as born out by the company photo was 95% white.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Historically, it was used primary by Native Americans so it falls under the same cultural appropriation umbrella as “spirit animal” and “totem”.

        1. Elena Vazquez*

          The word tribe has been used for groups all over the world throughout history. It does not belong solely to Native Americans. A quick scan through any history book will make this clear.

          1. BubbleTea*

            It has never, however, been a formal term to describe a group of colleagues. Membership of tribes is always (at least as far as I know, and I’m not an expert) based on family links and is a life-long status. You don’t get hired into a tribe.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes. We’re not going to debate this here; there is indeed an increased awareness of why it’s problematic in this context and companies are dropping it.

      2. Mshiiken*

        Yep, exactly what others have said – it’s a term used by Indigenous folks to talk about our cultural and ethnic groups and carries a family context. Speaking for myself, I use it in a specific context to talk about members of my actual tribe, not casually about people I know and/or like. It’s still used now, because Indigenous peoples are still here! It’s similar to using ‘powwow’ to mean meeting or ‘spirit animal’ to mean something you identify with a whole lot – unless there’s frybread, music, and dancing at your meeting, you’re not inviting me to a powwow and I’m disappointed. ;)

      3. Dwight Schrute*

        Alison linked to an article that explains it above but it’s related to cultural appropriation and racism

    3. AnxietyRobot*

      I do want to drop in here a moment and mention that while it’s important to touch on cultural appropriation, it’s important not to engage in cultural erasure at the same time. As a Jew, I get really uncomfortable when I hear people saying the word tribe is for indigenous people only, as it’s absolutely a part of my cultural heritage too.

      1. Mshiiken*

        I’m not Jewish, so I can’t speak on that. My comments have only been from an Indigenous perspective, because that’s what I am.

  22. Forrest*

    I think Alison is right about all the burnout stuff, but I don’t think “* “You need to be able to hit deadlines” is a red flag. Same as with, “You need to be able to hit targets”, I’d read that as, “you need to be the kind of person who is energised / motivated by”. If you read it as a strength rather than a competency it makes a lot more sense.

    1. Mona Mia*

      It’s absolutely a red flag when taken in combination with everything else, and in the way they are presenting it. As Alison notes, some of these things on their own wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but the packaging here is saying a LOT.

      OP, stay well clear.

    2. Birch*

      It’s a red flag because it’s weird that they’re pointing it out. They likely already have people who *aren’t* hitting deadlines, probably because the deadlines are unrealistic, or goalposts are being moved. Pointing it out in promotional materials means they’re pre-emptively making it the employee’s fault if they don’t hit unrealistic targets, which suggests (in a circular way) that the deadlines and targets are definitely going to be unrealistic. Because if they were realistic or the company was willing to take employee development or feedback into consideration, they wouldn’t need to mention such a weirdly common thing in promotional materials in such a weirdly aggressive way. That’s the red flag.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, this. It wouldn’t be so weird if, say, during the interview they said that it was fast-paced with a lot of short turn-arounds and quick deadlines, as a way of letting people choose whether that was something they wanted to pursue (some people love that, some people hate it). But mentioning it by itself is at the very least a bit odd. As Birch and Cat Tree pointed out, anyone in a job with deadlines will expect that they need to meet them, so why are they underlining this?

        1. Forrest*

          >>during the interview they said that it was fast-paced with a lot of short turn-arounds and quick deadlines, as a way of letting people choose whether that was something they wanted to pursue (some people love that, some people hate it)

          That’s exactly what I mean– that it’s the kind of job which will suit people who like short-turnaround and quick deadlines and find that energising. I don’t get why it would be normal to say that in an interview, but it’s a red flag to signal that up front?

          I agree there are a ton of other red flags here, and it’s not somewhere I would apply. I just don’t think it’s that weird to say, “We need people who can hit deadlines” as a way of filtering out the people who go, “ugh, tons of deadlines = tons of stress” vs the people who go “”deadlines = exciting and fast-paced”!

          1. KRM*

            But that’s something for the interview itself! If you’re promoting your company and saying “you have to be able to hit deadlines!!” it’s pretty pointless on it’s own–journalists know they will have deadlines and have to make them. The exact structure of that (which isn’t touched on directly in the materials) is a topic for an actual interview. But to bring it up as a stand alone thing in materials containing a star spangled banners worth of red, just seems like they were reaching for something normal to say, as if it could bury the rest of the nope.

    3. Cat Tree*

      It’s weird that they would make a point of it though. That’s a basic expectation in literally any job, so why emphasize it?

      There are a few nuggets of good, but ina sea of bad. That changes the interpretation of even the good stuff. For example, my company has “bring your whole self to work” in a good way, meaning that you don’t have to hide things like orientation or gender identity because the company won’t tolerate harassment or discrimination. But at a place like this company, I’m sure it means that employees aren’t allowed to have any boundaries and managers will get super involved in their personal lives.

    4. No Name #1*

      Yeah I have seen “you need to be able to make deadlines” listed as a requirement in a lot of entry-level writing adjacent jobs.

    5. Observer*

      “You need to be able to hit deadlines” is a red flag. Same as with, “You need to be able to hit targets”,

      Context is key here, Alison notes. And the context here is that there is something UNUSUAL and “special” about their deadlines. In a workplace where you will burnout unless you set some really hard boundaries- boundaries that still require you to allow people to “rip your mask off”.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Exactly. What they mean is: “Need to be able to hit [constantly shifting, moving, and objectively unachievable] deadlines” which is just setting anyone up for failure.

    6. Jennifer*

      I think it’s a red flag simply because just about every job has deadlines you have to hit on time. The fact that they needed to mention that in an intro video tells me that they have some unrealistic expectations.

    7. Aggretsuko*

      I applied for a job where they asked 3 times if I could come back on time for lunch. If they ask an easy question 3 times, they are clearly Having Issues With That.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Possibly because people go to lunch one day when they can’t stand it anymore and never come back.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        Or because they allow 20 minutes for lunch and it takes 15 minutes to get out of the building, or to the nearest place with food.

    8. MonkeyPrincess*

      If it were in a list of the very basic things, it wouldn’t be a red flag of anything except an uncreative HR person. “You must be able to meet deadlines, work well as part of a team, face clients in a professional manner, and be familiar with Microsoft Word” is not a red flag.

      As part of a zany list, it makes it automatically zany.

  23. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

    I’d apply out of morbid curiosity – I’d want to see if they have literal red flags as décor. Because they should.

  24. Bob*

    They are telling you you will be treated like a serf then trying to put your mind at ease about it.
    This is a crap sandwich.

    Alison’s analysis mirrors my own thoughts.
    Don’t let desperation or rose coloured glasses screw you over here.

  25. Percy*

    Removed — LWs usually want to keep the companies they’re writing about anonymous, so please don’t post guesses here! (I’ve removed a bunch in response to this comment.) – Alison

    1. ATX*

      I’m pretty sure a friend of mine interviewed there, although she didn’t mention the videos but did have a rather crazy interview experience!

        1. ATX*

          I suppose “crazy” was a bit of an exaggeration :P but it was definitely weird! Interview questions like this one which they made her do in video format:

          Who do you have the best relationship with, and why? You may not pick family, friends, current work relationships, teachers, professors, deities, or yourself.

          She had to meet with a ton of different people, who all mentioned how great it was to be part of this “tribe.” The HR rep was also really trying to sell how they’re all a family and tried to make the company seem like the best place to work. Sure, it’s good to promote the place you work, but there is a line where it becomes creepy and cult-like. Definitely sounds like some brainwashing is done!

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Who do you have the best relationship with, and why? You may not pick family, friends, current work relationships, teachers, professors, deities, or yourself.

            Um. Doesn’t that, by definition, eliminate everyone I have a good relationship with?

            1. Nea*

              Best I can think of is that it is an extremely badly worded version of “what type of people do you get along with best?”

            2. boo bot*

              I suspect it’s designed to make you realize, “Oh no! I don’t have any important relationships outside of those categories!” Presumably so that they can provide the relationships you are “missing.”

              It’s creepy.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            At least it didn’t require a literal song and dance like that one letter from years ago.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A reminder that LWs usually want to keep the companies they’re writing about anonymous, so please don’t post guesses here! (I’ve removed a few.)

  26. MCL*

    Yeah, your gut is giving you pause for good reason. I totally understand how better pay is super attractive especially if you’re currently making very little, but this higher pay will cost you too much. Do not engage.

  27. Lacey*

    This sounds terrifying and exhausting. I’ve worked at places that blurred the boundaries a bit, but these people are making it their manifesto!

  28. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

    I think this is a classic “when someone tells you who they are, believe them” moment.

  29. londonedit*

    It may just be because I’m nearly 40 and generally Sick Of This Sort Of Nonsense, but good lord, this sounds horrific and not a place I would want to work at for any amount of money. I want to go to work, do my job, feel like I’m contributing to a team, and go home in time to enjoy my evening. I do not want my job to be my ‘lifestyle’, I do not want my ‘mask to be torn off’ and I do not want to work in an environment where the rules of the game are constantly changing (been there, done that with one insane micromanager and it was soul-destroying).

    1. D3*

      As Alison pointed out, this is probably why their company picture is all young people who haven’t gotten to the point where they realize they don’t have to put up with these kinds of things.

    2. pbnj*

      Yup. I would have tapped out on the 1st bullet. “It’s not a job, but a lifestyle.” You want me to be chained to my desk for 80 hours/week while you wave stock options or some carrot in front of my face that never pans out? Nope.

      1. Elbe*

        The “lifestyle” thing is such a massive red flag, even for companies who aren’t cults.

        It’s even more of a red flag when it’s about a position that is entry-level or close to it. Even if the role is well paid compared to market, it likely isn’t the type of money that would justify it being a “lifestyle.”

        No reasonable person would think that an entry level salary entitles them to become someone’s lifestyle. It’s a huge indication that they don’t know the value of labor, and they they don’t respect their employees as complete humans with full lives.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Stock options what a joke. An option to buy at 40. Well if the stock goes over 20 that would be amazing…. wait… the option expires in two weeks? [Paper hits shredder.]

        It strikes me because if I handed my boss an equally worthless piece of paper, I’d get fired.

    3. CircleBack*

      I went straight from a job that only hired people in their early to mid-20s to one where I was the youngest by 10 years and it was WONDERFUL. There were problems with the company, but the culture was so much more chill and drama-free, with people there to do their jobs well, then go home.

  30. H. Regalis*

    It’s so culty their website should have an auto-playing midi of “Sanctuary.”

    This place sounds like bad news. A job is a job. You exchange your labor for money. That’s it. There should be nothing about tearing you down and remaking you in their own image. Six weeks of vacation isn’t worth the psychological damage this place is going to inflict on you.

  31. Exception To The Rule*

    OP, this place sounds like it will make a newsroom look normal. Nothing wring with discovering that the daily news grind isn’t for you, but I’d suggest aiming for PR or corporate communications, they love hiring reporters & editors. Good luck.

    1. C-Suite Diva*

      PR firms are also notorious for this kind of boundary-blurring – it can be a good transition from journalism (I made it!) but you have to be wary with founder-led firms. The one I work at now is great and the founder is totally normal and understands this is just a job. The last two firms I worked at were nightmares – the last one could have written this ad.

  32. MechanicalPencil*

    I briefly worked for a company that honestly could be this one. They put themselves forward for those Best Of company lists and instructed employees how to answer surveys in order to win. It was not a true win by any means. Having seen their process for “winning”, I no longer take any stock in those sorts of lists. I’m sure there’s some companies who follow the spirit of the list, but…. Also their Glassdoor reviews (or any reviews) were equally as coached. It was all a hot mess.

    If a company is giving you that many bad vibes, it’s for a reason. Run and don’t look back.

    1. A Teacher*

      Same. I worked for a large physical company that did this yearly. It was not a great place to work.

  33. twocents*

    Just in general: if you find a job posting actively off-putting, you really don’t have to apply. Unless maybe you’re desperate for a paycheck, but “this reminds me of a cult” is sufficient reason to move on.

  34. Ellen Ripley*

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: I agree that a lot of the statements raise red flags in my mind. However, this site and its commenters tend to veer very… anti-unusual company culture, maybe is the right way to say it? It sounds like this company is *trying* to be edgy and startup-ish, but that doesn’t mean that all common sense will be jettisoned once you work there. There are people who would thrive in this sort of environment (for better or worse) and if you want to continue with the recruitment process for a while to get a feel as to whether you’d be one of them, I don’t think it’s a unilaterally bad idea. If you don’t want to, fine, but if you are interested enough to go to an interview, why not?

    (I’m a veteran of several Silicon Valley startups, and most of the dysfunctional ones did not fit my rule-following personality. However, I had coworkers who used the dysfunction to their advantage: they were self-contained and did their jobs like rock stars, and the flexibility was an advantage to them.)

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      There is *always* a culture though. When people try and ditch “corporate” culture, what replaces it? It’s always the completely unexamined cultural prejudices of the founders. Basically – who do they like and who are they comfortable with.

      Allison’s observation about the company portrait was direct and relevant. Those places are always VERY homogenous, which is what happens when you obsess about “culture” and “cultural fit” instead of ability to do the job.

      1. Lacey*

        Yes, absolutely. And often it’s not a big deal when the company is just 2-4 people and get’s increasingly awful as the company grows and nothing is re-examined and the owner doesn’t understand what everyone’s problem is (been there, done that).

    2. Birch*

      It’s a fair point that many people do thrive in that kind of environment. For OP (and others) though, I would consider: 1. Could being associated with this kind of culture damage your future career aspirations toward a more healthy workplace? 2. Being fairly new to the working world, could you risk developing bad habits there that would damage your future working life? 3. The psychological and emotional risk of harm seems pretty self-evident. 4. Do you want to work for a place where some people who manage to claw their way to the top are “rock stars” and everyone else gets discarded as unworthy? This is just my experience in an admittedly very different field, but having come out of an incredibly toxic environment with a lot of the same red flags, I absolutely don’t trust anyone who works with my former colleagues and would not work with them again, absolutely developed bad habits that I have not yet shaken, could not have anticipated the psychological toll it took on me, and still feel guilty about not being able to do anything for those who suffered more than I did. At the very least you should go into it expecting the worst from a place that puts this much of its dirty laundry proudly on its promotional materials.

      1. Julia*

        Also, since OP has only spent one year at her current company, she might feel like she can’t leave quickly if this job goes south, for fear of looking like a job hopper.

    3. NW Mossy*

      In general, there are not a lot of people who thrive in persistently volatile environments, which is the biggest flag in this one. The exception tends to be founders who are the ones creating the volatile environment in which others operate, but even they are susceptible to being the next Adam Neumann or Elizabeth Holmes.

      I’ve worked for dysfunctional companies too, and even those who appear to be doing well in the chaos often aren’t, even if they swear up and down otherwise. Sometimes they’re “thriving” simply because they’ve not found themselves taking the brunt yet. Sometimes the tumult provides a useful distraction from/cover for serious personal problems. Sometimes it’s a continuation of lifelong patterns that have warped their expectations for how humans should treat each other. I’ve seen it be all three at once, even.

      I’d steer clear on the grounds that if you have be a super-rare sort of person to succeed at a particular company, statistics are against it being you.

  35. Pink Geek*

    “Be ready to have your mask torn off” – we start every meeting by sharing our emotional and mental state.

    1. Jenna*

      Yes!!! Read the same to me, as in: this is going to be a place with forced mental health check ins. (*Shudder*) It also seems — weird and super cynical about people? I dont think most of us have “a mask”? I do have a “professional self,” but she’s much the same as my personal self, just more polished and less prone to cursing. Most of us aren’t actively camoflaging who we are or trying to deceive others.

      1. Web Crawler*

        I agree with you- it sounds weird and super cynical about people. But I’d take it one step further- most of us who do have a “mask” have one for a reason, whether it’s a neurotypical mask, a straight one, or a mask that better fits the (white) culture of the company. No guesses here to why the company doesn’t look diverse from the photos.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        I do, but not because I’m trying to deceive people but more for the same reason that you put a rabid wolverine in a box instead of letting it run around. I know what I am, I’m trying to improve on it, in the meantime we have the nice locked box so no one gets their head bitten off.

    2. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      That’s exactly what put me off too. “Have your mask torn off” means “have no private life, and we get to decide who you are.”

      All kinds of NO.

  36. Western Rover*

    One thing I learned from my brief stint in print journalism is that those annual “Best of (Local Area)” sections are written entirely by the advertising department without any involvement by the regular reporters. Which ties in neatly with Alison’s warning about all the awards that the company showcases. It’s the marketing department on both ends.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yep. And even when there’s local voting, places that can afford it hire PR/advertising companies to stuff the ballot box in their favor. Unless all the businesses in the category are too small/honest to bother or there’s enough interest locally, you can never be sure.

  37. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    So I generally find that the more a place *talks* about their culture, the more they have a (bad) cultural problem.

    It’s the rule of red flags:
    The person who tells you how honest they are and what a good deal they are giving you? 100% scamming you.
    The person who tells you that they keep it real and hate drama? You will spend that relationship bailing them out of jail after they keep fighting club bouncers f0r taking a tone…
    The person who tells you that their friends mean everything to them and they are a really loyal person? Not a single person in their life has known them longer than two years.

    1. Sara without an H*

      +1. And anyone who says they believe in being totally honest…is about to insult you.

    2. Liz T*

      Ah, I see you ALSO once dated a compulsive liar you talked often, unprompted, about how much he couldn’t stand lies.

  38. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    You should run. The hills may not be far enough; aim to put an ocean between you and these… individuals.

  39. Dark Macadamia*

    “You’ll burn out immediately from the unpredictable management, lack of boundaries, and harsh criticism! J O I N U S” The fact that these are the things they chose to present *in their favor* is astounding.

    Also I laughed at “have your mask torn off.” Tribe, we are in a pandemic!

  40. McThrill*

    If your current job has too little separation between work and free time, wait until you join a company that says “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” while also proudly featuring an employee saying they were approaching burnout after just two months of working there.

  41. Former call centre worker*

    My read of “The culture is the opposite of anywhere you have worked before, because it encourages personal connections and growth”, based on the “personal connections” bit and the fact that it’s too normal to be worth emphasising unless something weird is going on, was “don’t expect any help when your boss tries to sleep with you, which they will”

    1. fposte*

      That was one of the things I tripped on. I mean, most decent workplaces encourage personal connections and growth; what definition are they using that means no other employer is doing this?

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      I took “personal connections” to mean “we expect the workplace to be your main social life, we do rock climbing for team building, and if you want to do something like leave work to go pick up your kids at the same time every day instead of going to impromptu happy hours you’ll be seen as unfriendly”

      1. Former call centre worker*

        I reckon the overlap between “workplace is your main social life; enforced happy hours” and “boss will try it on with you” is substantial

  42. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

    I figured it was my obsession with true crime podcasts (long commute, hate morning talk radio with an unbridled passion) that made me immediate think of the ::gif:: “Girl, You In Danger!” response.

    Could be a cult, could be cutting edge, could be “this is straight garbage yeet into the sun type” culture, and it could really be all three. My gut still says to run like hades though.

    1. Observer*

      Could be a cult, could be cutting edge, could be “this is straight garbage yeet into the sun type” culture, and it could really be all three. My gut still says to run like hades though.


      OP, this is a good point. This place doesn’t have to be a cult – but that does not mean that it’s a reasonable or functional environment. It is almost certainly NOT.

  43. Quickbeam*

    The whole industry awards thing is such a shaky thing. My company is always #1 or #2 in their category but regularly lauds people for giving up their PTO, talks endlessly about their culture but only provides decent work environment for the execs and would be happy for the cube farm folks to work 24 hours a day. I look at all industry awards with a side eye.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      I worked somewhere that kept getting an ethics award. Definitely not for how they treated employees. But it was in a highly regulated industry. So, they already had to meet certain standards to not be in actual violation of the law and incur fines. And meet the bare minimum. (Since Nike also made the list, I took it with a huge grain of salt.)

      1. Can't Sit Still*

        Ah, but with ethics in a highly regulated industry, not being in violation of the law often IS outside the norm. (I once worked for a company that touted its ethics, and while they were more ethical than their competitors, that was such a low bar that it was in the Mariana Trench.)

  44. Nessa*

    Ooooooh this reads like the first job I ever worked: which ended up being toxic-borderline-abusey, burnout-inducing and all round horrible. Run, run for the hills!

  45. Elbe*

    This place sounds absolutely terrible.

    This is particularly telling. It feels waaaay too personal to be a legitimate thing in the workplace. A company doesn’t have any right to access your “genuine” self. These people are not your therapists and they should have the humility to know that. They have no business judging what it a “mask” and what is real for you, and they FOR SURE have no business making demands based on what they think is your “mask”.

    Are employees able to call managers out on THEIR weaknesses? Are employees able to call out the weaknesses of the company? I very seriously doubt both.

    If the LW interviews at this company, I would LOVE an update about how they try to justify this stuff.

    1. Elbe*

      Sorry for the bad quote formatting!

      The first quote is the “removing the masks one” and the second is the “call you out on your weaknesses” one.

  46. MarketingGal*

    I agree with several of the posters on here…run. Have you also checked out sites like Glassdoor? I always look there to view all the negative comments and also look to see how long those employees have been there and if they are or are not still employed there. That always gives me a better idea if this is a place I want to apply to.

    People are usually more honest in their reviews when they are fully out the door. If you see a lot of negative reviews and the average reviewer was there less than a year that says a lot. At least to me.

    1. ATX*

      If this is the company I’m thinking of, their Glassdoor reviews are stellar. A little too stellar, to be honest. I wonder if they have employees writing positive reviews on there.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        Yes, but if you look at the negative reviews, they’re pretty consistent (moving goalposts, toxic culture). And just look at the company’s response, which is as culty as it gets (“It does not sound as if you are aligned with our Values and Principles. We imagine that this could it difficult for you to Bring your whole self to work. Therefore, we encourage you to speak with your Direct Support about a Mindful Exit…”) This is straight up Scientology level.

        1. Raine*

          “Mindful Exit” good holy camel spit, just when I couldn’t think of something worse, there’s that. I’d love to see their definition of what that is – clean out of your desk and don’t defame us on Glassdoor?

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I had a job many years ago as an outside vendor in Walmarts. Every few months we would get missives from on high to immediately drop everything and spend the next week completely rearranging our displays. Then a week later we would get another one, thanking us for our hard work and telling us to put it all back the way it was before. After this happened a couple of times I learned to not act on any of these urgent missives until a week or so later, particularly when the change being mandated was particularly unwise.

  47. ATX*

    I’m pretty sure a friend of mine interviewed there and she had a crazy interview experience. Very culty indeed and the interview questions were absolutely bizarre. She didn’t end up getting the job, thankfully!

  48. Observer*

    It’s also worth noting that in their staff photo of about 45 people, there is only one who isn’t white.

    That’s another thing that should worry you. In most parts of the US, that’s a sign of a problem. And even if it’s not overt racism, it’s something that should ping your radar.

    I was at a college graduation about a year before the pandemic, and they had people from the graduating class of 50 years prior come up. It was a blindingly white line up – exactly one Black person in the group. This, in NYC, where even 50 years ago there was a fairly diverse population. But that was 50+ years ago. Do you really want to work for a place that hires like it’s the 1960’s?

    1. Jack Straw*

      Agreed. There is a difference between passively hiring a one note workforce and actively seeking out a diverse workforce. The first isn’t always a sign of overt or intentional racism, but the second is a sign of an awareness that companies should have. ESPECIALLY ones that tout all that workplace harmony and awareness of weaknesses stuff.

    2. Sara without an H*

      It may also reflect their obsession with “culture fit,” which too often means, “We only hire people like us.”

      1. Web Crawler*

        Combined with the “ripping off your mask”, I hear “We only hire people like us, and don’t even pretend that you’re like us if you’re not because WE CAN TELL”

  49. RagingADHD*

    This company sounds very much like one I freelance for, with a few key differences. The first being that it’s not journalism, of course.

    I was also weirded out by the emphasis on culture, and asked specifically about it in the interview. The answers reassured me (especially when the interviewer confirmed that freelancers aren’t expected to go on company retreats, etc.)

    In my case, it turns out that everyone is really just super nice and extremely friendly in a professional way. They communicate well and acknowledge and work out problems openly. The workload can be intense in crunch times (as anywhere), but they are very proactive about negotiating deadlines up front, and checking to see if you need extra help to meet a deadline, rather than just throwing things in your lap and saying “make it happen.”

    I really like working there, and feel appreciated and valued both personally and financially.

    Here are the differences:
    1) All but one of the Glassdoor reviews trend positive, though they are not all top-marks and suspiciously the same. People liked and disliked different things, but overall were positive about working there.

    2) More diversity in age and ethnicity. The back-office staff trends younger, but they require a lot of experience for people who deal with clients and actually work on the product.

    3) They do the video-testimonial thing by staff, too. But for example, when someone said “I nearly burned out when I first started,” the end of that comment was something like “…because I refused to let anyone help me. I didn’t trust that my teammates would really have my back, but when I spoke up, I learned that they did.”

    4) They talk about taking ownership of your work, and putting the good of your teammates first, but in the context of empathy, respect, and collaboration instead of competition. Not language about the job being a “lifestyle.”

    5) Lots of change and growth were mentioned by several folks in their videos and Glassdoor reviews. There have been a number of changes in tech and process while I’ve worked with them, and they can seem to happen quickly. But there is always extensive onboarding and training along with open forums for questions, and they pay freelancers for training time. They don’t apologize for changing, but they explain why it needs to happen.

    6) They talk about the “whole self” thing, about being authentic, being challenged on weaknesses, etc. What that means in practice is that people aren’t at all nervous or embarrassed about saying things like, “I need to push back the due date on this project because my mom just broke her leg and I have to take care of her until we can hire someone.” And everyone says “Oh gosh, sure, don’t worry, we’ll work it out.” And then they send a snack box and gift cards for takeout.

    It also means that if you turn in sub-par work, they will tell you it is not right, and coach you on what needs to change. Or if you don’t deliver on time and didn’t speak up in advance about needing more time, they will call you out on that and hold you accountable. If you give a bullshit excuse, they will tell you it’s bullshit. They are polite about it, but extremely direct.

    7) The company’s main website is client-facing first, to promote their services. All the stuff about culture is on the “careers” page where it belongs.

    I have really enjoyed working with this company, despite my initial “eek is this a cult?” feeling. But there are some important flags in the one you described. I almost wonder if the company you encountered modeled their materials on the one I’m talking about, but haven’t actually got the underlying culture right.

    1. Sambal*

      Yeah, this was exactly my thoughts. What if the company is trying to be inclusive and hop on the *cool, hip* corporate culture bandwagon and totally failed? I don’t think that in itself makes the company bad to work for, but it might speak more broadly to what the company is struggling with.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Then the company should have used stronger examples, like RADHD did here.
        Out of every example OP gave, no where did I see evidence that they knew they were talking to fellow human beings.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      The thing is, cults offer something people genuinely want. Read a description of these things and it sounds great! And it can be great, when it is real. The problem is when descriptions of these great things are used as a lure for a much less desirable reality. And even when not outright deception, many companies try to force the issue. Who wouldn’t want to work with coworkers you like so much that you want to spend time outside of work with them? This gets turned into obligatory happy hours and other mandatory fun. Looking in from the outside, it can be hard to tell which is which, but ham-fisted corporate self-promotion is not encouraging.

  50. Wendy City*

    As someone in marketing who often had a hand in those Best Places to Work awards… I’ve noticed an inverse trend in companies that were good to work for vs. companies who put a lot of stock in external recognition of being a good place to work. The more focused management was on procuring an award (and the more that award was touted), the worse the workplace was.

    The best places I’ve worked *might* have a mention of the award on their recruiting page, and it certainly didn’t get top billing.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Not a marketing thing but I just finished reading a book by an expert in psychological safety in the workplace. While she’s done some really good work (IMO), she also showcased two companies as being positive for for how their leadership has established the culture, but that are otherwise objectively shady/awful places to work. One is the poster child for the “radical candor” movement, which kinda sounds like the OP’s cult-ish example. The other has been in the news for almost two decades for illegal and predatory business practices and subsequent lawsuits/settlements, and was actually featured on John Oliver’s show at the time the book was being written. Like, great that the employees (who stay) report feeling comfortable and respected in their workplace but couldn’t the author find companies that weren’t toxic in other ways??

      Just an interesting contrast between the faces some companies show (and who buys into it or sees the value) and what they offer their employees or customers.

    2. Sambal*

      Agreed. One of my previous work places topped Best Places to Work in my city… and it was featured on this blog after I wrote in with some pretty large problems. Companies who go after these awards tend to be too externally focused and are using these tools to bring in business above all else.

      Also, when I was required (yes, required) to fill out a survey about how amazing my company was to work for, I was told by management that “this wasn’t a time or place to air out the company’s dirty laundry.” Which speaks volumes to the validity of these awards.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      “companies that were good to work for vs. companies who put a lot of stock in external recognition of being a good place to work”

      SO true!
      It kind of reminds me of the companies who pay to put fake reviews on Amazon about their products.

  51. old biddy*

    Unusual wording in a job ad is 100% there for a reason. This isn’t your friend who accidentally picked the wrong word to describe something when you were talking face to face.
    Ever so often I go look up the jobs ads (see below) from the company where my former ToxicBoss is now CTO. The wording has gotten more and more specific over the years but is very similar to things ToxicBoss said. All this sounds mostly ok on paper, but note the buzzwords – thinks about x in the shower, warm cooperative and friendly, doesn’t settle, overdelivers.

    -Has a passion for what they do. Someone who has found their calling — the kind of person who thinks about process engineering in the shower.
    -Gets things done. A self-disciplined, hard-working doer.
    -Doesn’t settle. Someone who pushes the envelope — overdelivers, goes out of their comfort zone, resists stagnation.
    – Is agreeable. A warm, cooperative, and friendly person.

    1. veronica*

      The biggest red flag is that you think about hydraulic engineering in shower. Musings on process engineering are for when you are waiting in line at the grocery store.

  52. Sylvan*

    This is super culty. On top of everything Alison has outlined, I want to point this out:

    Also, the company website’s first page is all about why it’s a great place to work and its second page is about the services it offers.

    Why is the company’s website written as if its primary audience consists of job applicants instead of customers or clients? That’s weird. That’s something you typically only see MLMs do. As a content writer/copywriter, I don’t write homepage content for prospective employees of my clients’ companies — I write for prospective customers and clients.

    1. Sylvan*

      Also, OP, you note that this company pays 20% more than your job in print journalism. That doesn’t mean that this company offers generous compensation — it means that it offers generous compensation in comparison to print journalism. Working for a newspaper is like working for a nonprofit — people often accept low pay and some workplace dysfunction out of dedication to their work. (Also, many newspapers have been struggling financially since around 2008 and they just can’t pay very well.) You can find many companies that offer what this company does and more.

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        Right. 20% more could easily still be less than ten grand. I’d look for another way to make that $$$

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, typically a website is about the BUYER journey, not prospective employees.
      The only other exception I can think of might be like healthcare or nursing… as in attracting the best doctors and nurses and scientists because that’s what is best for the patients/public/community. But I don’t think this is that.

      1. Sylvan*

        I see how that could make sense. I could also imagine that this company has separate sites for customers and for prospective employees, and each site has a secondary page for people who need to be directed to the other one. That’s a little too charitable for a company with this many red flags, though!

        1. CB212*

          That was my guess – they have a retail services site that clients would go through, and this is the corporate site. (Or even a literal retail shopping site, if they’re in products not services.) Or they’re a holding company with a few separate identities directed at different sectors, each of those having a client-facing website. On its own this wouldn’t raise my hackles, but given the work experience they’re selling, I’d put on my sprinting shoes for sure.

  53. LadyByTheLake*

    We are unapologetic bullies who will work you to death and guilt and shame you for having any thoughts that don’t agree with ours, and we expect you to be grateful for that.

  54. MissDisplaced*

    As someone coming from 20+ years in my industry, I’d be “Oh HELL no!”
    But as a new grad, maybe this is the kind of thing you’re into if working there provides some cache or looks great on your resume. So, I guess it’s about what your individual tolerances are for some of these things (like huge ambiguity and constant deadlines, and work basically being your life). Sometimes those things may not be all bad with young startups, depending on your industry and mindset–maybe you wouldn’t mind it for a year or two. Even corporate giants like Microsoft and Apple were this way back in the day.

    No harm to interview there of course. But be skeptical and don’t let the “but we are “special!!!”” mentality influence you. Ask lots of informed questions if you interview there. My advice: if they push back or are evasive about any of your questions, you’ll know it’s not a good sign.

    1. Usagi*

      I have worked at both Microsoft and Apple and can confirm that both of those places are STILL like this in a lot of ways. Maybe they’re not so in-your-face-obvious about it, but still, there’s definitely a lot of Kool-Aid being passed around.

  55. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    Alison is spot-on about those Top 20 Companies thing. The worst company I’ve ever worked for – toxic, disorganized with a crazy-pants CEO – has won a similar award for the last 5 years runninwon the Top 20 g. I’ve worked in some pretty bad places over the past 25 years, but this was the only job where I lasted less than a year and quit with no notice. They get a terrible Glassdoor reviews regularly because turnover is so high, and they always respond with “This person is obviously a disgruntled outlier, we’ve won the Top 20 Llama Grooming Companies to Work For the last five years in a row blah, blah, blah…”

    I just saw on LinkedIn that they won again for 2021 and I’m convinced at this point that they’re either paying for it or just straight up lying on their application about everything.


    1. Water Everywhere*

      The CEO at one place I worked won a top CEO award several years running and while the place was not nearly as bad as what you describe, it was still a head-scratcher. Until I looked at the judging criteria, which basically boiled down to “have a friend nominate you and we’ll send you a form to fill out with all the reasons you deserve this award”. Input from employees was not a factor at all.

  56. V$*

    Everyone here is saying RUN, but I don’t think I can advocate for that. You’re early in your career – starting at a higher wage now is super important for your wage trajectory in the future. Could you work there a year and see what’s up? I mean, everyone here is making a lot of assumptions that what is created and posted in promotional videos actual reflects real life. I’ve see the videos my company puts out, and they’re laughably awful with tons of buzzwords.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Except your previous salary isn’t relevant to future salary and many states (looked it up, 17) expressly forbid asking about salary history. We as individuals are still conditioned to think that it matters though, but it doesn’t. Actual work experience is what’s important.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I think this can depend on type of the actual industry and personal tolerances for that sort of thing.
      There are a lot of tech startups who put the emphasis on the culture/tribe of the employees. It’s not a new thing.

      And I know many people in the private equity/IB/finance industry who put up with tons of overwork and burnout their first 1-3 years because they’re willing to do so to make big bucks and be part of big deals (read Wall Street Oasis). BigLaw is also like that. It takes certain types I suppose. I’ve also seen some ad agencies with the same mindset (cult-like).

      1. James*

        Right. If you go in with your eyes open, and with a full understanding of what you’re getting into, you can endure a few years of absolute hell, then hopefully break through and have an easier life after. Some people thrive in an environment like that. 9 out of 10 don’t, however, and it’s very risky to stake your financial future on the premise that you’re the exception. If you’re already having doubts, you’re not the exception.

    3. RagingADHD*

      If the Glassdoor reviews were decent and it’s just the website and job listing buzzwords that were hinky, I’d probably agree with this. There are a lot worse options for a new grad than higher-than-average pay with a big workload and some frustrating changes.

      Since the former employees apparently are panning it, that gives me pause.

    4. Venus*

      I think it is important to look at hourly wage, in that if the yearly salary is 20% more yet they expect you to work 50% more hours, then it isn’t a raise. Be careful about how you approach this way of thinking about salary.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        This is a very good point. And as someone upthread pointed out, all we know is that this job listing is for 20% more **than OP’s current journalist salary.** OP should do research to see if the listed salary is competitive for similar jobs in their area/this company’s industry — they could very well be below the competitive range because, ya know, they’re a tribe (gag).

    5. This is terrible advice*

      I worked a toxic job. Even for just a year, working for someone who has unrealistic expectations and constantly belittles you, alternates between micromanaging you and saying “I don’t care” when you need help, and throws you under the bus at every opportunity will mess you up professionally and emotionally. And that’s BEFORE you start trying to apply for jobs where they call that place and your ex manager lies through their teeth about what kind of employee you are because they are still mad you quit 2 years later.

    6. Dahlia*

      They don’t work there! They’ve barely even applied! They definitely shouldn’t LEAVE THEIR JOB FOR A CULT

      1. V$*

        While I don’t disagree with you, I do want to point out that you have a lot of exclamation points and capitals for someone that doesn’t actually *know* it’s a cult. She’s looking to leave her company anyway, and I was just pointing out that there is a often a huge disconnect between the PR materials and the actual workspace. And it’s a shame not to apply for a job with a high(er) salary just because the PR material is weird.

      1. blink14*

        Turns out, I went to high school with one of the members … so freaky! The documentaries are haunting.

  57. TWW*

    Sounds like Glengarry Glen type of company.

    Either that or a startup quickly burning through it’s latest round venture capital funding.

  58. Sharon*

    Sylvan’s comment above is spot on. Anytime a company tells you more about the culture than about the job, something is likely wrong. It will probably turn out to be MLM, or piecework or commission-only sales that will end up paying less than minimum wage.

  59. nnn*

    Keeping the “have your mask torn off” language in a global pandemic is certainly a choice…

  60. Bookworm*

    I think most people have covered it but agree: it’s a cult. The use of “tribe” in this context also makes me very uncomfortable. I can only assume they didn’t want to use “family” due to the problems of that connotation in relation to workplaces but this is not any better.

    Wishing you the best of luck in your job search!! Hope something better and less cultish pops up for you soon!

    1. RagingADHD*

      I was today years old when I found out that using “tribe” in a business context is considered problematic. It’s been a common term in marketing for many years. All the links Alison shared were less than a year old, only one of them was to a publication (rather than a company’s own blog), and that publication is niche.

      I’m not going to deny that it’s problematic if people feel that it is. That’s fine. I have plenty of other words to use, I can drop it easily.

      But I’m also not going to hold it against anyone else if they didn’t get the memo yet. There is just too much going on in the world to expect everyone to upload the exact same level of awareness simultaneously, and declare them awful humans if they missed it.

      1. Observer*

        I was today years old when I found out that using “tribe” in a business context is considered problematic

        That’s is the least of the problems with this posting, though.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Yes, but it’s the one Bookworm was addressing in particular, and I was responding to that.

          There are plenty of red flags, I’m just not sure if that is one. Maybe a yellow flag.

  61. I edit everything*

    I’m picturing a manager coming up to someone’s desk and saying, essentially, “Surprise! That make-or-break deadline we originally set for next week is now TOMORROW, and we’ve completely changed the scope of the project.”

  62. ABK*

    It’s a step forward in pay and benefits, but not in anything else. Since you have a job that you’ve only been at for 1 year, I’d wait and look for something that’s a step forward in pay, benefits and well as professional responsibility, and that can really push you forward in your professional skills. This place can’t do that. Wait and find a place that you can really see yourself growing into for 3ish years.

  63. Anon for This*

    I do the Best Places to Work survey’s at my company. We have for the last 3 years and what I found fascinating was they won easily the first year (I wasn’t in my role yet in HR), but it was primarily because the people were carbon copies of each other so it was great for the in-group (which was mostly white, but not entirely) and terrible for anyone who was the out group (also a mix of white & non-white, but mostly not).

    Leadership recognized the issue and brought me on board (there had never been HR here, small company). So year two, we tanked big time. The apple cart was rocked. So I would argue, we were a better place to work for more people in year 2, but we weren’t great for the out group yet and now the old in-group hated us too. Ooof.

    Year 3, much more accurate. We have work to do of course, but the in-group/out-group dynamic is showing up less and less, we are more diverse across the board and everyone is happier. No idea if we will win it this year, but we have improved tremendously and the story behind the survey’s is much more interesting than the outcomes themselves.

  64. Kali*

    I’m almost reminded of a Devilcorp recruitment ad (door-to-door sales, basically a pyramid scheme though the money does come from selling goods rather than ‘investment’, commission-only, definitely a cult). If the job title was “trainee marketing manager” then I’m convinced.

  65. knitcrazybooknut*

    —In the job application, there are links to videos about who should and should not work at the company (which is referred to as “the tribe”). — At this point, I said, No aloud.

    —Several employees say it’s “not a job” but a lifestyle.— Then I said NO.

    —One employee says you need to be able to hit deadlines and not make extra work for other “tribe members.”— At this point, I yelled NO and dropped breakfast down my front.

    Oh lordy. Run like the hounds of hell are chasing you, because if you take the job, they will be.

    1. Dog Coordinator*

      Yup, the “it’s a lifestyle” note is code for “we expect you to eat sleep and breathe this job, and when you don’t, you’ll be seen as not-a-team-player”.

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Even worse, “not make other work for tribe members.” Um, so anytime I don’t meet a deadline, I’ll be ostracized or guilted for hurting my coworkers? This sounds bad in general, but especially if expectations are constantly changing and I just need to suck it up!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      If you think of a job posting as having the most important bits that a company is focusing on- this is a company that thinks it has to tell people not to make more work for their cohorts. wth. I learned not to make more work for people when I started to walk. Is this company targeting toddlers? Who do they think they are addressing?

  66. CJ*

    I read a lot of coder startups in the late nineties and early aughts. “Tribe” is a keyword for a specific type of dominated bro culture. Run as fast as you can.

    1. Pikachu*

      It’s also a classic hashtag for the MLM/influencer culture. #bossbabes is rarely seen in the wild without its counterpart #tribevibes.

      Obviously not any better whatsoever.

  67. Dream Jobbed*

    This seems paranoid. Just normal culture as far as I can tell.

    Now, can we just get a pint of your blood and some flesh samples for the future ceremonies of brodation and broailure? Thanks.

  68. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP —
    I, too, would advise you to steer clear. While I can certainly sympathize with the frustrations of journalism as a career right now, you’re still early in your working life. Alison has mentioned several times that when you work for a bad manager or bad company, you risk picking up some defensive habits that will serve you badly in the future.

    If you do decide to apply and get an interview with these people, do NOT leave your journalist’s instincts at the door. Come prepared with very probing questions about what the job entails, how work is evaluated, and what it’s like to work there. But you’d probably spend your time better by ignoring this job and looking for something else.

    Of course, if you do decide to apply and interview with this outfit, everybody on AAM would love to hear about it.

    1. irene adler*

      Yeah, I’d love to hear about the interview process this company would put candidates through.
      But really, how does one tailor the resume for them to take an interest? As for the cover letter? I can only imagine!

      1. Pikachu*

        I think OP should just submit a resume that details every time they destroyed a coworker inside by hanging a poster describing their weaknesses on the wall, creating a wiki that organizes every bad idea that was dismissed outright (and the idea’s originator, to supersize the humiliation), and an artistic photo of a pile of war torn masks left to rot under an abandoned cubicle.

        The interview is an obstacle course that includes dodging the on-site kegs as they roll at you down the hallway, a few days of mid-week sleep deprivation torture, a battle of wits with the company’s leading “devil’s advocate” questioner, and you win when you finally get to play that game where you have to find the item under the moving cups except there’s just a random deadline under each cup for an under-funded, understaffed project that nobody else will do and you’re screwed anyhow.

  69. Water Everywhere*

    The lack of diversity in the staff photo coupled with their dedication to calling themselves a “tribe” tells me that this is a workplace where policies on dealing with discrimination and bullying/harassment are either nonexistent or not enforced. Maybe not a cult but definitely raising ALL of my hackles.

  70. Dog Coordinator*

    I side with Alison here. This is some of the same wording my current dysfunctional job would use to describe themselves, and we’re only one step away from a cult at this point. All the of talk of “family”/team/tribe, people having to set their own boundaries, signs of burnout… Lots of red flags in that job posting, and Alison brings up some great secondary points about the info accessible on their website.

  71. content lady*

    The stuff about being open to feedback being on their careers page is the part that’s the red flag for me. I worked at an agency that had mandatory Ted talks and they totally twisted Brene Brown’s to translate to: “good leaders regularly shame their staff with blunt truths.”

    Can someone pleeeeease drop a bigger hint about what this company is? I am not a great Google detective.

  72. Bostonian*

    Yeeeah… I first started reading and was thinking “OK, some of this sounds like they’re trying to communicate concepts that aren’t completely unreasonable but in these videos it’s poorly worded, and maybe in practice these things aren’t as bad as they sound.”

    But by the time I got to

    the company changes quickly and “there’s no apology for it.”

    THAT’S when I said RUUUUUNNNNN.

    By that point, you have to take the totality of evidence as a whole as it points to crazy.

    1. 1234*

      That sounds like “At a moment’s notice, we could eliminate your position but that’s just business.”

  73. YikesOnBikes*

    “Always make the right decision for the tribe before you make the right decision for yourself.”


  74. foolofgrace*

    If I could take an interview without losing a day’s pay at my job, I would take it to find out just how horrible this place is. Could be some amusing stories there about the interviewers and what they had to say. We’d love an update! And who knows, it might end up being a good move for you! (Doubtful but possible; I had some terrible jobs in my 20s that nonetheless taught me a thing or two.)

    1. JM in England*

      Plus doing this interview is a useful way for gathering firsthand intelligence about the company to post on Glassdoor.

  75. Lex*

    If this is the company I think it is, one of the co-founders went viral before viral was a thing for his blog detailing his drinking and his sexual encounters. I would run so far away from this place.

    1. Half-Caf Latte*

      I know Alison doesn’t want people speculating about the company, but since she said she doesn’t know anything else about the company I feel like this is hugely relevant for the OP to consider (and I had the same guess and reaction to the co-founder).

      1. YikesOnBikes*

        I agree. This is important, if it’s possible to get this information the LW. Not only is it potentially dangerous but this also will likely *not* look good on your resume because of the founder’s reputation.

  76. Ellery*

    Did anyone else imagine these company videos as some kind of 90s MTV reality show commercial? Not a good vibe unless you want to find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting real.

  77. CommanderBanana*

    RUN. AWAY.

    Also, not saying this is true in this specific case, but some of those “best of” awards are paid awards. Like how doctors can be listed in some “best of blah blah” lists and some are legit, some you just buy a position in. So I would be very careful about putting too much weight on those awards without checking out the publications, some of which could be for-profit where you can buy a spot on a best-of list.

  78. MCMonkeybean*

    Even if it turned out this place was totally fine–it seems unlikely to be the right fit for you if they promote themselves as “a lifestyle, not a job” and part of why you are looking is because you are tired of “the lack of distinction between work and personal life.”

    No harm in applying and finding out more if the bump in pay would be significant enough for you to consider it, but if so make sure to go in with your eyes WIDE open and have a lot of questions to ask about the things that concerned you most.

  79. Radio Girl*

    OP, I spent more than ten years in print journalism, and I know there are drawbacks.

    But this company does sound like MLM. I advise you to run.

  80. Mayor of Llamatown*

    Piling onto the other comments about this sounding, in the words of Sarah Edmondson, a little culty. Steve Hassan create the BITE model to identify the hallmarks of what makes a group a cult: controlling Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion.

    Definitely seeing overtones controlling of behavior (“This is lifestyle” could lead into “we only dress a certain way” or “we all follow this guru” and also probably means “we will make you work so much you won’t be able to see your family and friends as much as you wish”) and emotions (“Your ideas may be completely wrong” and “subpar work impacts other members of the tribe”). I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s also levels of controlling information (“don’t Google us”, “what that article said about us was wrong”, “people on Glassdoor are just haters”) and thought (I bet they have lots of acronyms and special language, and probably encourage thought-stopping behaviors and group doctrine).

    So. Yes, there are concerning behaviors that point towards cult-like characteristics. Call your dad.

  81. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    First thing that popped into my head was, “Oh, the Borg are recruiting now?” Prepare to be assimilated.

  82. AnxietyRobot*

    Alison froze the thread before I could respond, but I’m actually pretty angry about this, so let me clarify:

    Discussing how tribe is a cultural term and shouldn’t be used for offices? Totally cool! Claiming that the term tribe is only actively used by Indigenous people and shouldn’t be used by others because you’re unaware that other cultures use it? Completely understandable! Refusing to alter your messaging once you’ve been informed that it’s also used by others? Super not cool. It’s really not that big of an ask to want people to avoid oppressing others while discussing their own oppression.

  83. fhqwhgads*

    Also about this “The culture is the opposite of anywhere you have worked before, because it encourages personal connections and growth” — This is not a unique thing. It is weird that they think this is a unique thing.

    Not only is that not a unique thing, but it also seems improbable that it’s true given all their other statements.

  84. EngineerMom*


    I agree with Alison – run for the hills.

    This is NOT a healthy workplace. A healthy workplace posts specifics in job descriptions with a focus on job requirements and maybe a small handful highlights at the end about why it’s a good place to work, and does NOT describe itself as a “lifestyle”.

    You’re going to drown here. Don’t.

  85. Scott D*

    Six weeks vacation SOUNDS amazing on paper but from the rest of what you’ve written it doesn’t sound like you’d EVER get to take it, or would be made to feel really bad if you did. The ONLY good thing is that, because they gave a specific number, they’re on the hook for paying you for the unused vacation time vs. companies that say “unlimited vacation” which means they don’t.

  86. Ginger Baker*

    On one company that “jokes” they (real quote) “put the cult in culture”: I see the dreaded Personal Growth At Work! events “We used to have twice a year summits where the whole company would get together. We’d do something called the Strengths and Obstacles where there’s almost like group therapy. For two days, we dig into what are your personal, professional and relationship goals? What are your strengths and obstacles in relation to those goals? People were hungry for it. It got raw and real. They were very painful and difficult things being discussed. We all loved it. It was among the most meaningful things that we got to do that we continue to get to do as a tribe. That evolved into a monthly program, which is The Whole Self that I mentioned where we meet one-on-one now with someone else in the tribe that we’ve chosen to guide us and to hold us accountable.” —this stuff is always interesting to me because I am sure some people ARE “hungry for it”…but there are so so many of us who would rather listen to a two day soundtrack of fingernails on a chalkboard.

    1. Elbe*

      “We all loved it.”

      This is almost certainly false. Most people barely trust their coworkers to get the TPS report done on time, let alone be their therapists. This is so ridiculous.

  87. Antisocialite*

    Oh god, I recognized it immediately because I applied a few years ago, although they had a different name back then and their “culture” page wasn’t as in your face. Plus their super problematic founder was no longer CEO, so I felt more comfortable applying. Not mentioning it out of courtesy to the OP.

    As I just told a friend, I’m fat, female, over 40, and disabled. So applying for remote jobs can be extra stressful if all you see are young, thin, white, able-bodied people on their website of their “tribe”. Instead of the usual phone screener, they had me do a one-way video interview where I recorded replies to their questions using their recruiting software. It felt very icky, like they wanted to see how I looked rather than how I talked (the position was not in-person customer facing, just email and phone, so that was another red flag).

    Looks like I really dodged a bullet.

  88. voluptuousfire*

    I’d go to the company’s LinkedIn page and I’d bet dollars to donuts that the majority of the staff are just out of college/are under 25. This company reeks of hiring newbie college grads and working them until they quit.

    Alison is correct. Run.

    1. Antisocialite*

      The company’s website has photos that indicate this, plus that they’re almost all white.

  89. STG*

    My spouse works at a place that sounds very very similar to the tribal mindset. The problem with it is that they tend to be ‘friends/family’ over being coworkers. In turn, the expectations that you will pitch in with long hours is definitely present as you are viewed as ‘not a fit for the culture’ otherwise. In addition, bad employees flourish because managers are far less likely to handle problems.

    Ultimately, his workplace sounds like a social club that requires that everyone also works on the club for 60 hours a week. They do offer really great perk benefits though if you can actually find the time to enjoy them. Note that regular raises are largely replaced with ‘new and exciting’ perk benefits that everyone can enjoy. It’s a pretty cultlike mindset.

  90. Wendy Darling*

    My previous employer, which I left because I was overworked, underpaid, blamed and made responsible for bad decisions made by other people, promised promotions/raises that never materialized, and not recognized for my ideas or contributions, made it onto one of those “best places to work” lists shortly before I left. They nominated themselves and I can’t tell what the decision was based on because they sent out a survey for employees to fill out and as far as I know they were universally flamed for it.

    At this point, if anything being on one of those lists is a slight minus in my eyes because it means the company expended effort on getting onto a best-places-to-work list rather than on actually being a good place to work. If a company is a good workplace people will know without any silly lists because the people who work there will talk about it being good.

    1. Antisocialite*

      My current crappy employer does the same thing. And they hound us to submit reviews for the best of awards, same with GlassDoor. So it’s all the favorites who get special treatment anyways extolling non existent virtues for the rest of us.

  91. CouchMob*

    Is this company Barstool Sports … sounds like the type of toxic language they’d use.

  92. the cat's ass*

    Sounds about white to me. Run, OP, like the zombies are chasing you and never look back.

  93. Pam Poovey*

    I once worked for a company that mainly hired very young people fresh out of college, and it was good for two things:

    One, they could grossly underpay everyone in a very expensive city

    Two, they might not have the experience to realize that a screaming, narcissistic boss who would publicly fire anyone who disagreed with him was in fact NOT normal

    1. Pam Poovey*

      Also, a better metric of the place than awards and published lists is sites like Glassdoor where actual humans who have worked there can rate them

  94. Raida*

    Good god, run away from this job posting!
    The self-congratulatory tone of it all makes it seem even more toxic – we’re all happy and open and friends and honest and if you don’t like any of that well… what’s wrong with you, why don’t you talk about your weekend, where were you yesterday afternoon, medical appointment – what for, don’t you like working here, you’re so lucky to work here, I don’t know if you’re committed to this great place to work, you didn’t respond until the next morning don’t you care about our important work, don’t be so sensitive, your time wasn’t wasted we changed plans you need to be flexible, you can’t succeed in life if you’re scared, Bob worked a 90-hr week and let’s all congratulate him, Sarah worked in hospital when her appendix was taken out she’s such a great team mate…

    Frankly, the blurbs you mentioned sound like a dodgy company that ‘pivots’ because they can’t deliver, or an MLM where people chant positive statements to make people feel good enough to not get out because ‘it’s such a great team’.

  95. Anonnington*

    I would not apply. I wouldn’t want those people to have my contact info and work history.

  96. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Why would they put this stuff up for recruitment? I was seriously turned off by all of it. Most toxic workplaces don’t post “TOXIC WORKPLACE!!!!” On their job recruitment listings!

  97. John Smith*

    Just one piece of advice that Alison gave which I strongly disagree with “run for the hills”. Don’t do that. The Hills Have Eyes, and they probably belong to this lot masquerading as civilised employers. Sounds like they have their head so far up their collective arse that they can say hello to their lungs. Run. But not to where you’ll find them.

  98. Sally*

    This company’s manual is posted in their job descriptions and it is titled as ‘ ‘Company name’ Culture Bible’. Even more bizarre is that this bible is a public google doc where anyone can suggest edits.

  99. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    Ok, so I think I figured out the company (of course I will not name it) and I watched the promotional video. It felt really over the top with all the people saying how wonderful it is. But I think the way they pitched the whole “bring your whole self to work” angle makes it apparent that they do not believe in any professional boundaries. They seem to think any efforts to maintain a separation between personal and professional life is a bad idea, but, in reality, healthy boundaries are essential. Even if it is not an entirely toxic place, you do not want to work there unless you are ok with sharing everything about your life with everyone there. And even if you are ok with that, I think that system is likely to go really badly at some point if it has not done so already. Absence of boundaries in a professional environment is a recipe for trouble!

  100. SleepyKitten*

    There’s a place like this in my city that have ads up 365 days of the year, offering people with no experience 1.5x median salary. They also have a big shiny good place to work award… because everyone who doesn’t want to be on call 24/7 leaves and doesn’t fill in the survey. Run.

  101. llamaswithouthats*

    Adding to the chorus of “RUN!”

    In general, always trust your gut about jobs. If it feels bad, it probably is bad (or at least bad for you).

  102. Eclecticism is a Virtue*

    For what it’s worth, I put a few of the quotes into Google and one of the suggested related searches at the bottom of the results was “most cultish companies.” I’d run far away.

  103. Hank Stevens*

    Self-absorbed drivel. They think they are special when they are not. Head for the hills at a robust pace!

  104. That's a no for me dawg*

    The fact a “professional” company used the word “tribe” to start with would have stopped me right then and there.

  105. I'm just a kid and my life is a NIGHTMARE*

    my company isn’t this blatant, but the “we hire super young people” thing and the “we change things frequently without apology” thing is very much a thing at my company (worth noting I also did SEVEN interviews, and it wasn’t until I had an offer that the person scheduling realized I was driving 300 miles round trip for two of them, the second of which happened because one of the people I hadn’t had a chance to interview with yet was on PTO). Also they set my start date for 3 weeks after I graduated, promised flexibility on that date and then was like “can you get an AirBnB” when I was like “what’s the contingency plan if I can’t find housing”.

    Anyway, I’m miserable and stressed out. Do not be me.

  106. moneypenny*

    The “bring you whole self to work” thing has got to stop. You know what I’ll bring to work? MY WORK. My ability to do it, meet deadlines, contribute, work well with others, and in there means firm boundaries and off time is off time. To bring my whole self to work would mean letting my medicated anxiety be public knowledge and air when I’m having bad days, is that what you really want? Doubtful. Bring the most appropriate, professional version of yourself to work. How’s that for revolutionary?

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