Chad Fowler writes about Stockholm Syndrome on how it applies to people stuck in organizations for one reason or another.
So I contacted Joseph Carver to ask his opinion. Could this be Stockholm Syndrome? He agreed. In email, he said “SS is most likely to develop when the employee feels trapped, perhaps by a high salary, fear of losing a career, or fear of humiliation.” So let’s look at his four conditions:
Getting fired, being humiliated, not being a “top 20%” employee, not getting a raise. Employers wield a lot of perceived power over employees, especially for those in very traditional corporate jobs. The employer must be willing to carry out the threat. Every business is under the right conditions. It’s how businesses work.
Got a Christmas bonus once when you really needed it? Make a competitive salary? Great benefits? Get to work on a technology you don’t think you’d be able to work on elsewhere? There ya go.
Isolation from other perspectives
Again, a big corporate environment is ripe for this kind of isolation. If you work for BigCo, you learn to do things The BigCo way. The company’s organizational structure becomes a blueprint for your career progression. You start to lose sight of what industry pay and incentives look like since you have a homogeneous population to compare with. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen even the best run companies create this kind of isolation of perspective and group-think. Charismatic leaders are particularly capable of creating a culture vacuum around a cult of personality.
Perceived inability to escape
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, American adults spend by far more time working than any other activity. That’s a lot of your waking time being trapped in a routine. In a Stockholm Syndrome situation, the captor chips away at the self-esteem of the captive. So for most of our waking hours, those of us trapped in dead end jobs like these are exposed to environments which systematically destroy our self-confidence. Not only that, a persistent fear and feeling of failure makes it harder to actually explore the options for leaving the bad situation. The instinctive self-preservation reaction in this kind of situation is to work harder to try to avoid the perceived threat coming to fruition.
Now Chad is a super smart person (I know because I interacted briefly with him way back in 1999/2000 when I consulted in GE Appliances) and he writes from his own experience working in a BigCo. He is right-on on all the points and super-right-on on the third point, “Isolation from other perspectives”.
Been working in a BigCo myself, I know what this means but I also feel that this is the only way BigCo’s works and succeeds. There is a very well defined structure and processes for everything under which a BigCo work. Success metrics are different inside a BigCo as against a SMB or a Startup. And these metrics get applied equally to everybody in the BigCo. Using the excellent infrastructure and experience, the BigCo tries to form a great community for people working in the BigCo resulting in people getting more and more comfortable knowing their peers and indulging with them inside and outside work. Sense of growth and progress comes from the excellent trainings and opportunities provided to the employees. And then there is performance assessment and promotions at the end of each year which again being laid out and applied to every single person in the BigCo provides them with a sense of achievement (0-15% pay rise on an average basis in good times). During these appraisals, you compare yourself with your peers in your group/sub-group and at max peers in other groups within the organization. Progressive BigCo’s provide excellent work culture which also provides impetus to not look outside the company. Over the years a sense of belonging comes for people working in this environment and even though you may be held hostage you love being there because of the growth and opportunities the captor provides. The only negative thing is the loss of risk taking capabilities (or atleast the ability to identify real risks) if you work in a BigCo for a long time.
But if you love what you do and keep getting the right opportunities from time to time, BigCo is the best place to be in. If you think you can do better things and are not getting an opportunity to do the same, Move on.