What does Steve Hassan have to do with the workplace? In a piece in Canada’s The Globe and Mail, writer Harvey Schachter uses Hassan as the subject in his column on work-life balance.
Steve Hassan is a mental health counselor who’s an expert on cults. Hassan knows what he’s talking about. He entered the Unification Church at age 19 and spent several years recruiting and indoctrinating new members, as well as performing fundraising and campaigning duties. After rising to the rank of assistant director of the Unification Church at its national headquarters, Hassan was severely injured in a traffic accident related to his duties. While he was in the hospital, his parents took the opportunity to “deprogram” him.
It worked. Hassan left the church and is now a well-respected international authority on the effects of cult membership.
Taking a look at Hassan’s BITE Model (Behavior, Information, Thought, Emotion) of cult-like organizations, it’s immediately apparent why Schachter would draw a parallel to some of today’s workplaces.
Cults regulate the individual’s physical reality, including where he lives, what he wears and how much sleep he gets. Individualism is discouraged, while group-think prevails. The individual must make major time commitments for indoctrination sessions and group rituals, be obedient, and accept having little time for leisure, entertainment or vacations.
Leaders decide who needs to know what. Information is distorted or held back, to serve the needs of the organization. Access to outside information is discouraged, such as critical analysis of the organization or meeting with disgruntled former members.
The member is expected to accept the organizational doctrine as the truth. Only good thoughts are encouraged, and negative thoughts are shut down. Questions that are critical of leaders are not seen as legitimate.
Fear abounds over thinking for yourself. Members are indoctrinated into having a phobia about leaving the group or questioning the leader. Those who leave are shunned, and the belief grows that there is no legitimate reason for leaving.
For more on workplace cults, visit the AMEX Open Forum.