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Organizational brainwashing isn’t a neutral term. Many people disagree over its meaning or argue whether it actually exists. Brainwashing is intentionally replacing someone’s existing beliefs and perceptions with a different perspective. In the most negative conception of this term, brainwashing takes place without the individual knowing what’s been done to him. Organizational brainwashing can be described as brainwashing that takes place in a certain institution, such as a church or company.
Conspiracy theories abound about organizational brainwashing in the business world. Bloggers, peeved employees and radical-minded college students have written essays about their suspicions of being brainwashed at work. Conspiracy theories associated with organizational brainwashing maintain that corporations intentionally set out to turn their employees into brainless worker-bee zombies who do little more than work hard, promote the company mission and defer to authority.
These organizational brainwashing theories suggest that employees can be manipulated and controlled through a variety of tools. Company manuals, videos, trainings and personal interaction with corporate management might be viewed with suspicion as a means to overflow the minds of employees with corporate messaging. Employees may think that they’re reading, listening to or watching a benign message, but devotees of organizational brainwashing theories believe these platforms carry subtler messages with a darker intent.
There’s no proof that organizational brainwashing exists, but there are similarities between corporate indoctrination and what’s thought of as organizational brainwashing. Corporate indoctrination processes can take place over long periods of time as employees become more familiar with their employers’ goals, preferences, corporate viewpoint and typical messaging. Employers may make direct efforts to impart their corporate identity to employees through training or printed company materials; employees may also pick up on cues based on observations or interactions with managers or other workers.
It’s possible to draw similarities between the theory of organizational brainwashing and employee orientation programs, which usually take place when someone new joins the company. Orientation might include filling out basic forms, taking a tour of the facilities, asking questions about expectations and meeting key company representatives. During this time, employees may also learn about the company’s history, achievements, goals and ethics code. Through this process, employees learn more about the organization’s viewpoint and what will be expected of them in the workplace.
Although company culture absorption isn’t a formal process, many companies have a certain way of doing things or a particular identity that makes them different from other workplaces. As employees work for an employer, they may over time be educated in the company culture or may observe for themselves that certain behaviors are permissible and encouraged while others are not. While this isn’t necessarily organizational brainwashing, it’s another example of how employees might modify their viewpoints and behaviors to reflect their employers’ wishes.
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.