Your Office Is a Zoo — Now What?
May 3, 2018

Your Office Is a Zoo — Now What?

by Brian de Haaff

Observe any workplace and you will find an astonishing ecosystem. Each one is filled with many creatures. Depending on the organization, you may also find a battle for survival. Some rule with wit while others dominate with more concealed tactics. What is this one constant in the wild, wild world of work?

Just like the natural world, the office can be a place of wild beauty and also Darwinian survival of the fittest.

You might be working in just such an untamed environment yourself. Maybe every day feels like you are walking into a battle of wildebeest-sized egos. Or maybe you have had your head down for so long that you have not even noticed your habitat. But if you take a moment to look up, you might spot the “animals” around you. Careful — these are not the cute and cuddly variety.

They snarl and some have venom. But you can bet these creatures did not start off their careers this way. But rather, the animalistic behaviors grew over time in reaction to the environment — with every workplace that thrived off of drama, with every boss who rewarded shiny perceptions over effort and hard work.

As any animal lover can tell you, wild behavior is usually a result of fear. Fear of not knowing what is lurking in the shadows.

Of course, I am not suggesting that every coworker acts like a wild animal. Hopefully, this is the exception, not the rule. But it is important to recognize this kind of behavior when you see it — otherwise you risk being devoured.

I have written about animals in the office many times before. These are some of the most popular blog posts that I write — I can see why. When the brays and growls of the office rise to a frenzied pitch, you want a field guide to help you make sense of it all.

So let’s recap — here are the animals you see most often in the office:

The weasel Scheming. Greedy. Meddlesome. These are just a few words to describe the pesky workplace weasel. They may seem perfectly harmless at first. Even sweet. But the reality is that they love to stir up trouble — whether it is claiming credit for someone else’s work or flat-out lying to the team about a “sick day.” The most frustrating part is that they do it all with a toothy grin on their face.

The bear Sometimes you pass the bear in the hallway and think, “You still work here?” The truth is that you have not seen much of the bear in a while. And you certainly do not know what they are working on. Sure, they lumber into meetings, but they are shrouded in complacency and boredom. Without any direction from leadership — or even the initiative to ask for it — the bear is hibernating away their career.

The parrot “Did you hear so-and-so was late finishing the report again? And did you know that another so-and-so did not hit their quota?” This bird will not stop squawking. The parrot always has one ear to the sky, eager to listen to and repeat every snippet they hear. The problem is that people keep feeding the parrot more juicy bits and so the squawking only gets louder and louder.

The donkey Hee-hawing until they get what they want — this is the donkey’s signature move. They are brazenly stubborn and do not care who knows it. The donkey refuses to budge from their own point-of-view, kicking back against anyone who tries to object. Unfortunately, those staunch opinions are always what is best for the donkey, not necessarily the whole team.

The squirrel Quick — the squirrel is over there! If you are not fast enough, you will miss this overactive rodent. This is because they are running ahead of everyone. Zipping from one thing to another. And hoarding information, only to forget where they stashed it. Yep, they are driving you (and everyone else) nuts. But they are so charming and surprisingly smart that it can be easy to overlook the scattered behavior.

The snake Hissssss… the snake is about to strike. And the scary part is you might not see it coming. This is because the snake slithers around the office — speaking in whispers, gathering secrets, and spreading lies. They thrive off of the negative energy and making others feel worse. Behind that scaly skin is a lot of self-centeredness and insecurity.

No one should feel like their work is a zoo. So take notice if one of these animals sounds familiar.

And take care not to become one of them. No matter your role, you can help create a working environment that is ruled by hard work, transparency, and kindness.

But if survival is still what you are after, consider the words of Charles Darwin: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

What animals are in your office?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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