The corporate illusion: 8 phrases companies use to keep employees compliant

Ever noticed how sometimes at work it feels like there’s this invisible rulebook? 

Companies have a way of using certain phrases that make us nod our heads and just go along, even when we might have questions or concerns.

In this article, I’m going to uncover these seemingly innocent phrases that companies often use to make sure employees stay compliant.

It’s not just about office politics; it’s about giving you the knowledge you need to make informed decisions about your job and determine whether the company’s culture aligns with your values and expectations.

1) “Be grateful you have a job.”

I used to hear this phrase a lot back when I worked in corporate, and it always made me uneasy. Sure, we should be grateful for our jobs, but telling employees this can really mess with their confidence. 

It might seem like a harmless statement on the surface, maybe even a bit encouraging. But we all know it’s more than that. 

As someone who used to lead a team, I’ve seen firsthand how statements like this can make people feel like their concerns don’t matter.

It makes employees feel like they can be easily replaced. Saying, “Be grateful for your job,” basically means there are lots of others who would happily take your place.

On top of that, it stops employees from speaking up about problems. If they don’t feel valued, they won’t share issues at work because they’re afraid of getting fired.

That’s right—it creates a culture of fear. This fear stops people from talking openly, which then leads to less work getting done, more absences, and more employees quitting.

2) “We’re like family here.”

It’s a common sentiment, but I’ve come to realize that it can be used in a manipulative way to keep employees compliant.

When a company says it’s like a family, they’re essentially telling you that you should be loyal to them, just like you would to your own family. 

They’re implying that you should put the company’s interests ahead of your own and that you should be willing to go above and beyond for them.

This can be a very effective way to keep employees from speaking up about problems or demanding better working conditions. After all, if you’re part of a family, you don’t want to rock the boat.

But just because someone treats you nicely or calls you “family” doesn’t mean they have your best interests in mind. 

Interestingly, in a YouTube video titled “What Nobody Tells You About Having a Job,” Justin Brown featured a rare clip from esteemed intellectual Noam Chomsky.

In that clip, he talks about how slavery is still slavery, even if the owners are kind to their slaves.

3) “We’re all part of a team.”

While it’s true that we all contribute to a company’s success, saying “we’re all part of a team” can sometimes make individual efforts seem less important.

This phrase can make employees feel like they’re just cogs in a machine rather than valued members of a team. Here are examples of how this can happen:

  • Your manager might say this to justify making you work longer hours without extra compensation. This is a way of making you feel like you’re not pulling your weight if you don’t agree to work extra.
  • Your manager might also say this to make you feel guilty about taking time off or using vacation days. They might say something like, “We’re all short-staffed, so we need everyone to be here as much as possible.” This is a way of pressuring you to work even when you’re sick or need a mental health break.

This “team” talk might sound good, but it’s often just a way to make you do what they want. 

Why? Because a company is a business, their main goal is to make money.

4) “We appreciate employees who adapt quickly.”

When a company says they value employees who can adapt quickly, they’re really saying you should go along with any changes they make, no matter how sudden or unreasonable they are.

They want you to be flexible and prioritize the company over your own needs and preferences.

I think this is something many of us have experienced. A friend of mine used to work at a company where the manager constantly used this phrase. 

They would frequently make changes to the work processes, often without warning or explanation, and then expect employees to just roll with it.

We’re often told that we need to be adaptable and that we should be willing to change at the drop of a hat. What many employees don’t realize, especially fresh graduates, is that it’s a powerful tool that employers use to keep us in line.

That’s why it’s crucial to remember that we have our limits.

In the end, a company isn’t asking you to be adaptable because they care about you. They’re doing it because it makes their job easier.

5) “Your colleagues are doing it willingly.”

This statement is a sneaky way bosses make employees work harder

They say, “Everyone else is doing it,” making you feel like you have to do extra just because others are. It’s a way of making employees feel like they’re the odd ones out if they don’t want to put in extra effort.

For example, your boss might say, “Your colleagues are staying late, so you should too.” This can make you feel like you have to work extra hours just because others are.

Or your supervisor might say, “Everyone else is working weekends, so you should too.” This can make you feel like it’s your responsibility to work weekends just because others are doing it.

Or your team leader might say, “We’re all working hard, and your colleagues are giving their best. You should too.” This can make you feel guilty for not working as much as your colleagues, even if you have reasons not to.

This tactic keeps employees in line, but it’s also a way for bosses to avoid fixing real problems like unrealistic deadlines, understaffing, or inadequate compensation.

6) “Your job depends on it.”

man woman at work The corporate illusion: 8 phrases companies use to keep employees compliant

Companies often use this phrase to push employees to work harder or agree to unfair demands. 

It makes them feel like they have no choice but to do what they’re told, or else they might lose their job. For example, your boss might say: 

  • “Finish this by the deadline, or else you might lose your job.” It’s a direct threat, making you feel worried about your job security.
  • “We need you to work extra this weekend to finish this project. Your job is on the line.” This is also a threat, making you think you must work overtime, even if you don’t want to.
  • “We’re all under a lot of pressure right now, and we all need to give our best. Your job is at stake.” This one is a bit sneakier, but it’s still a threat. It makes you feel like you’re letting down the team if you don’t work hard.

But here’s the thing: I understand that standing up against this isn’t easy. 

But you also have to remember that you have rights. You can say no to extra work, take time off when you need it, and speak up about what’s wrong at work.

7) “It’s part of being professional.”

This phrase is often used to make employees accept unfair demands. It suggests they should just deal with it because that’s how things are supposed to be.

For example, your manager might say the following:

  • “Working extra hours without complaints is part of being professional.” This can make you feel like you should accept long hours without pay because it’s expected.
  • “Always be available, even after work hours; it’s part of being professional.” This means you should check work messages in your free time because it’s what’s expected.
  • “Putting the team first is part of being professional.” This implies that you should sacrifice your well-being for the team’s sake.

This “part of being professional” talk makes employees feel like they must follow certain rules, even if they’re unfair. It can make people stressed, overworked, and undervalued.

So, when you hear this phrase, think about what’s really being said. Remember, there’s a difference between being professional and being taken advantage of.

8) “That’s above your pay grade.”

This kind of language creates a frustrating situation for employees. 

It’s like being told, “You’re not smart enough, experienced enough, or important enough to understand or contribute to this.”

When managers or supervisors use this tactic, they’re basically shutting down communication, making you feel like you’re not up to the task of having an opinion about certain matters. 

This, in turn, can make you less likely to speak up, even when you have something valuable to share. It also creates a power imbalance, reminding you that managers always know best and that you should just accept whatever you’re told.

As an employee, this can make you feel disengaged and even resentful towards your company. You might also find it hard to stay motivated or enthusiastic about your work. 

However, don’t forget that this is just a trick managers use to keep you compliant. 

You have the right to speak up about things that you think are wrong or unsafe, even if you’re not in a management position.

Final thoughts

I understand that work can be really challenging, no matter what kind of job you have—be it the usual 9-5, freelancing, or running your own business.

If you’re stuck in a corporate job that’s dragging you down, don’t beat yourself up about it. Not everyone has the luxury of quitting and starting over.

But that doesn’t mean you have to settle. 

You owe it to yourself to take small yet aligned steps towards the career and life of your dreams. 

Remember, your job shouldn’t make you miserable. But real change can only happen the moment you realize you deserve better. 

Picture of Julienne Merza

Julienne Merza

Hey, I'm Julienne - a freelance writer with a passion for all things spiritual, wellness, and personal growth. I practice slow living in the countryside, where I have constant access to trees, wildflowers, and bodies of water. I love romanticizing the mundane and finding magic in life's simple moments. Through my work, I aspire to share my stories of healing and overcoming. If you feel aligned with my energy, please say hi to me on Instagram: @irishjulienne

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