A lie told often enough becomes the truth.Vladimir Lenin
I had the dubious experience of being married to a psychopath and then later spending a few years as the member of a religious cult run by a suspected psychopath. This, combined with intensive research of their manipulation and control tactics, made me realize that corporate entities use some of the same tactics to influence and control their employees. In fact, my own employer aggressively used one of them to try to influence unwilling employees to return to the office after the entire company had transitioned to remote work during COVID. The tactic they used is called loading the language.
What is Loading the Language?
In the 1950s, Professor Robert J. Lifton researched mind control and brainwashing used by Chinese Communists against U.S servicemen captured during the Korean war and also against their own people. He identified eight tactics used to drastically change people’s opinions and beliefs. These are not used only in authoritarian groups. Organizations considered benign also use them to manipulate people into doing their will. Most people have no idea they are being used against them. One of these eight tactics is Loading the Language.
In a cult environment, loading the language consists of using jargon internal to and only understandable by the group. Constricting language constricts the person. Capacities for thinking and feeling are significantly reduced. Imagination is no longer a part of life experiences and the mind atrophies from disuse. This sounds quite extreme and certainly no company wants to reduce their employee’s capacities for thinking and feeling, or atrophy their minds. Or do they?
Loading the language shuts down a person’s critical thinking. In this case, the ability to think critically about the efficacy of returning to the office versus continuing to work remotely. The company leadership, for whatever reason, wanted employees physically present at the office again. Why they wanted this is fertile ground for another article. Many employees wanted to continue working remote. The leadership knew that they could not make a logical case to return to the office, so they loaded the language instead in an attempt to manipulate employees into believing that returning to the office was better.
What It Looks Like
The 2006 comedy film Idiocracy has a scene that illustrates loaded language and its ability to shut down critical thinking. The scene is a discussion about electrolytes between the protagonist Joe and U.S. presidential cabinet members.
Joe: What are electrolytes? Do you even know?
Secretary of State: It’s what they use to make Brawndo.
Joe: Yeah, but why do they use them to make Brawndo?
Secretary of Defense: Because Brawndo’s got electrolytes.
This is comical, but the same thing occurs with corporate loaded language. Let us examine the loaded words presented by my employer to manipulate employees to return to the office.
Community. Collaboration. Convenience.
These words are catchy and they alliterate. They were the “reasons” postulated by the company to give up remote work and return to the office. They were repeated and championed by the company leadership at every meeting. Employees were bombarded with them in a flood of videos and emails. Smiling faces spoke these words over and over again with high enthusiasm and a “you should do it too” attitude. The catch however, was that these words were being employed in a manner that had little to do with their actual meanings. The leaders never spoke the meanings, just elicited strong emotions. Positive emotions in conjunction with returning to the office, and negative ones for continuing to work remote. Let us examine this more closely.
Reality Versus Loaded Language
The implied meaning of the loaded language, reinforced thorough repetition, is often very different from reality. This is necessary to reframe reality into something that benefits the company, often at the expense of the employees. If it was not detrimental to the employees, then it would not need to be reframed to get them to accept it.
Webster’s dictionary defines community as:
- A group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society; joint ownership or participation
Is the workplace a community? I submit that it is not. People are not living together; they are working together. While people can choose both their communities and workplaces, they are not one and the same. In fact, many people prefer that their community be clearly separated from their workplace to guard against the tendency of work becoming their life. Calling a workplace a community creates a false sense of allegiance and loyalty where there should be none. The company has no loyalty towards the employees, no matter what it states, so it is deceitful to manipulate people into feeling they are obligated to be loyal to the company. There is no joint ownership, only joint participation.
Webster’s dictionary defines collaboration as:
- To work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor
This loaded word is more subtle. Collaboration is clearly necessary and desired as part of being employed by a company. Collaboration is necessary for an organization to function. However, is it necessary for employees to all be at the same physical location to collaborate? That depends on many different factors, foremost of which consists of the necessity of interacting with customers face-to-face in some sort of sales or service role. Another reason would be production of physical products that requires employees to be present to create, inventory and ship these products. None of these factors were present at my company’s office. In fact, most employees worked on computer systems located hundreds or thousands of miles away, while they sat in chairs at the office. They could do exactly the same work sitting in chairs at their homes, or even a coffee shop.
Even more contrary, the company had record profits during the time all employees worked remote throughout the pandemic. Online collaboration methods were quickly and effectively adopted. There was no impediment to work getting accomplished. In fact, many employees were willing to work extra hours or off hours because they were at home and did not feel constrained by work hours or commutes. Flexibility greatly increased. Employee satisfaction with remote work was above 80%, according to surveys contracted by the company.
Realizing this glaring inconsistency between reality and their version, company executives pushed to reframe the meaning of collaboration in their propaganda videos and emails. One employee stated that he was able to overhear conversations in the office and jump in when he had something to offer. That is not collaboration. That is eavesdropping and, in many cases, none of that employee’s business. Value added from such serendipitous, impromptu brainstorming is so rare that it is almost inconsequential. Far more effective and valuable collaboration takes place during focused team meetings, whether in person or through some form of remote connection. The manner of the connection, whether physical or virtual, is secondary to the process. Some people may contest this, but the metrics of record profits during 100% remote work provide a compelling counter-argument. Record amounts of work were accomplished without face-to-face collaboration.
Webster’s dictionary defines convenient as:
- Suited to personal comfort or easy performance
This claim was so disingenuous that it bordered on an outright lie, yet the company leadership enthusiastically pushed it. The office location is in one of the busiest areas of a 7.5-million-person metroplex. The average commute time for an employee is about an hour, each way. Moreover, the office is situated on a tollway, with an average cost of about $5 each way per employee. Some pay even more. Gasoline costs are at an all-time high. So, what exactly, is convenient about getting up earlier, losing two or more hours out of each day stuck in traffic, and $100 or more in toll/gasoline costs each week? Nothing. It is the antithesis of convenient. Even so, the company leadership and their mouthpieces enthusiastically parroted the word convenience at every chance when talking about coming back to the office. Yet, they could not provide one concrete example of how it was more convenient. Just personal, and very flimsy, opinions. But, Brawndo has electrolytes.
One of the corporate cult’s most powerful weapons is the office and keeping them there.Paul Lopushinsky, Playficient
The video campaign was a masterful delivery technique. Rather than dictating to employees that they return to work at the office, something most did not want to do, they manipulated them into arriving at their own conclusions that they should return to the office. Since they made the connections in their minds, they now owned them and would be less likely to reverse their positions and leave, even if dissatisfied. This is mind control; manipulating a person into believing someone else’s thoughts are their own. Add some peer pressure and most employees returned to the office, rather than rebel and leave. The executives got what they wanted, but made it appear to the employees that it was their own personal choices.
A more ethical and honest approach would have been for executives to be transparent with employees about their reasons for wanting them to return to the office (assuming they even had good reasons) and then let the employees decide for themselves. Even dictating it outright would have shown more integrity. The fact that the company used propaganda blasts like this indicates that someone with sophisticated knowledge of influence and mind control orchestrated it. This begs the question of what other manipulative and controlling tactics they might be employing to bend workers to their corporate will.
When every choice that I make is yours,
Keep telling me what’s right and what’s wrong.Lyrics, Talk Talk (1982)
Any time an employee questioned returning to the office, these three words were spouted enthusiastically. Over and over and over again. This tactic was supplemented by the weekly videos and emails repeating the words over and over and over again. Soon people believed them, the contrary evidence notwithstanding. After months of this process, the mere mention of community, collaboration, and convenient quickly shut down any dissent or alternative suggestions. So loud became the voice of the manipulated masses, that stating anything contrary immediately branded that person as “problem employee” who was not interested in the team or best interests of the “community.” Much of the 80%+ majority who had no desire to return to the office were cowed into silence or feigned enthusiasm so they looked like they were good team players, belonged to the community, and continued receiving paychecks.
Few, if any, of the employees are aware that they have been manipulated and subjected to mind control. Make no mistake, this is controlling people without their informed consent and thus coercion against their will. Just because it is not illegal, that does not make it right or moral. Ironically, my company loudly and publicly touts its Christian values, yet does this align with that public face? I say it does not. Most people are completely unaware of this type of mind control unless they have studied it, or been subjected to it and learned through it in some way. Both are rare. Many people will get an uneasy feeling about what is going on, but dismiss it as being paranoid, overly critical or anti-social. It is none of these, especially if you are usually easy going and accommodating. Trust your gut.