He got his start laying pipe for the Atlas Water and Sewer company. Eventually, he climbed the ranks, becoming responsible for a staff of 800 and annual revenue exceeding $120 million. His name is Victor Kipling. This is his weekly column.
With the advent of Chinese New Year in a few weeks, you’ll be pleased to know that we say bye to the Pig and welcome to the Year of the Rat! Legend has it that the Buddha invited animals to attend a new-year celebration, and those that attended were forever honored by having an eternal place in Chinese calendars and astrology. And, if you’re a good customer at your local Chinese take-out, you may find a calendar next to those egg rolls between now and Feb. 7th.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with life as we know it at the workplace? Well, when you consider how often all of us liken our bosses, peers and subordinates to various animals, there are some parallels and maybe even inferences to be drawn here. And, as the great Rod Serling would say, the following list of office animal analogies ‘is submitted for your consideration.’
Forever cursed as a squealer, a snitch and as someone totally lacking in any ethical or moral standards, rats abound at all levels in the workplace, from top echelon execs to bottom-rung mail clerks.
The rat is found quietly skulking around every office bend, between cubicles, at the water cooler and yes, even (or especially) in the bathroom. His ears perk up when he hears anything negative, because that’s when he goes scampering to tell a honcho what he heard. And, while bosses may find rats as repellent as the rest of us, make no mistake-they encourage, and even reward, organization rats for the necessary, albeit cheesy, intel that they provide. If you want to avoid the rats’ trap, be more discrete.
While colorful, it’s important to bare in mind that the chameleon is indeed a reptile. And as a cold-blooded creature, we should never expect anything good from it. These small reptiles abound in any office setting. Totally bereft of any conscience, they survive and unfortunately prosper because they’re so damned adaptable. They readily and easily change their perspective, point of view and opinion on just about anything-so long as it pleases the boss. If you’re the hero this week, they’ll applaud the loudest, but on some sad, rainy day when you’re cast as the goat, they’ll equally condemn you. Just don’t take anyone’s’ praise or criticism too seriously, and you can avert being part of the chameleons color war.
Primarily female, the peacock struts her stuff, all the time at work. Highly-coordinated, decked out in Prada, Coach, etc. and sporting a seductively glam attitude, this bird is as self-centered and narcissistic as they come. Talk about all fluff and no substance, the peacock has nonetheless been known to rise to truly astounding corporate heights. Nope, no proverbial glass ceiling for her, she simply flies right over it. As long as her looks last, that is. Never rely on the peacock for anything other than an occasional dose of eye candy.
Large, crude and sometimes rude, the bear is, at least, always honest. He’s a ‘what you see is what you get’ kinda animal. He snorts, slurps and pads around, with about as much guile or even delicacy as a, well, bull in a china shop. At work, he’s the grizzled old-timer who can always be counted on to bore you with how he boot-strapped it, one painful rung at a time, up the corporate ladder. Not a bad sort, and likely to be much more loyal to the organization than it is to him. The bear can be useful, especially where institutional memory is concerned.
Mostly inhabiting the lower company strata, there’s so many rabbits and, for them, so few carrots. These are the types that most organizations actively recruit-they’re meek, harmless, obedient and typify the vegetarian. They do all the grunt work that no one else wants to be bothered with, and for that they should get our respect. And, after all, they are as harmless an animal as you’ll find in the corporate Zoo.
There isn’t one, not one, egomaniac boss who doesn’t think of himself as a lion. As the heroic, strong, dominant who rules his jungle (oops, zoo) with fang and claw. Yeah, he’s a true carnivore, and damned proud of it! So what if he doesn’t have the flowing mane to prove it, and the fact that he may well be pudgy, bald and near-sighted doesn’t mean anything to him. Nope, it’s all about being the alpha, acting aggressively and always getting to feed first. Yet, and as we know from the Wizard of Oz, there’s a helluva lot of cowardly lions around too. Your job is to not become this animals’ lunch, and that’s mostly accomplished by staying as far away as possible.
Of course, no zoo would be complete without a whole menagerie of other animals. The bulgy-eyed lemur, for example, is really the guy who, it seems, never goes home. He arrives early and stays late, for no apparent reason. Hmm, maybe it’s the rattler at home that he needs to avoid…And there’s the patronizing hyena, who laughs and laughs at the boss’ stale jokes, the spineless eel-like creature who survives and sometimes flourishes by his total lack of principle. The list goes on, and on.
While there’ll always be both predators and prey in the work-a-day world, you don’t want to become someone’s’ lunch. The way you start is by being able to recognize your fellow zoo mates for what they are. And, while humans are considered the top of the food chain, did you ever know of any other animal that can stab you in the back?
Tell us about your Cubicle Zoo. What “animals” are on the loose in your office?