Corporate Stockholm Syndrome

Consider this page to be perpetually incomplete. Perhaps there is just an outline here waiting to be fleshed out. There’s always more to add, but it was lasted updated on: [8/7/2020]

I think most of us know what Stockholm Syndrome (SS) is—it’s when the victims of kidnapping or hostage-taking start to identify with their captors.

There’s another more recent modification of that term: Corporate Stockholm Syndrome (CSS). There are various definitions of it online, but here’s mine: employees developing loyalty toward an employer that they aren’t a good match with.

There are two broad reasons why a bad employer/employee match occurs, and they can be true at the same time or in isolation:

  1. The employer is bad (unreasonable demands, demeaning behavior).
  2. The employee feels a need (not always consciously) to stay at an employer to satisfy some end other than their own fulfillment/happiness. This could be economic instability, but it could also be the prestige of a certain career or employer.

Employees develop loyalty in these bad situations often as a psychological coping mechanism. If you’re in a bad situation, that’s not a surprising reaction. But it is not the best one either.

Why?

Because this loyalty, CSS itself, blinds you to the costs of your situation—both nominal and opportunity costs. This is especially terrible because costs, like benefits, can compound over time. You sooth yourself with the visible benefits: the money, the prestige, the stability.

This is why I call CSS a kind of “cost blindness.” It is a terrible disease. Imagine trying to build a budget, but only ever looking at income, never expenditure. There is only one way that can turn out.

Because you adhere yourself to a certain employer, you stop wondering and looking at life beyond it. Your ability to see just how happy or different you could be elsewhere atrophies.

I think about CSS a lot. I actively avoid it myself, but I see it all around me in the dates that I go on and the people I meet. It’s no way to live a life.

Note: there is a difference between CSS and keeping a job that you need to pursue higher ends. For example: if you need to pay off a large law school loan debt, it’s not CSS to work for a large corporate firm for a few years to discharge it, even if you dislike that workplace. The key is being honest with yourself: acknowledge that you’re making a cost-benefit calculation. Don’t shoehorn badly motivated loyalty into the picture just to give yourself false comfort.