The workplace jungle

RO Communications

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, ABC

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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"I hear you call it civilisation. It's a jungle out there. It's a jungle out there." - Bonnie Tyler

It must be a terrifying experience to be lost in the jungle. The strangeness of the environment coupled with the overwhelming fear of predators lying in wait to rip your flesh to shreds, is enough to leave you cowering in fear. Like it or not there are some workplaces which are just like a harsh, unfriendly jungle, with you, the newbie, at the bottom of the food chain being the most likely fodder. How do you equip yourself to identify who are the predators and protectors that inhabit the space?

The workplace is like a jungle because, just like the place inhabited by wild animals, our offices have strict hierarchical structures and rules in place and of course survival is the name of the game. If you are new to a work environment it behooves you to clearly understand your surroundings and where you rank along the chain. Who is the leader of the pack, how do you approach 'his throne' and communicate your needs so that you can function effectively, are some of the questions to which you need answers shortly after you land, what you think might be a cushy job. In the work world issues of gender, country and corporate culture make things even more complicated. Many first timers land in a new workplace and they are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to work and give of their 100 per cent, only to have to make a decision to flee. Why? The toxic environment of that office and the malevolent predators, some of them long-time employees make the new employee's life a living hell. Knowledge is power however and in these days when jobs are scarcer than hen's teeth it makes just plain good sense to learn the lay of the land — or jungle in which you have to operate.

The strongest and most powerful animals always sit atop the food chain. At the pinnacle is the lion king,(Panthera leo) the top-dog, the boss man. There is a reason he is on top: he knows where all the bones are buried. The leader and a tough cat he is oft times no purring kitty: he has the loudest roar and the biggest say around the office. His voice and anything he communicates, even if it is nonsense, carries great weight. We all stop and listen when he roars and his voice is the hardest to ignore. A friend recalled wryly working in an office and whenever 'Bossman' strolled around the office unannounced, everyone would literally run helter-skelter and begin to look busy. It was not that the Bossman was a terrorist or an oppressive boss, that just seemed to be the employees' automatic response. There are some lions though who are benevolent leaders, protective and helpful, ensuring that the rewards are evenly distributed throughout the pride. The other side of Mr Lion King's personality is that he stalks his prey mercilessly. Have you ever seen a lion or cheetah stalk, and take down a hapless antelope on Animal Planet? Mercy me. Think about this and apply it to your boss when your have an outstanding matter pending for him.

Another curious creature to inhabit our workspace is that predatory anthropod, the scorpion of the order Scorpiones. These curious and dangerous creatures are usually the equivalent of the long time employee who knows every nook and cranny of the office space. Usually a study in contradictions, being filled with venom and hatred for his employers, yet loyal to the company that provides him with his livelihood, he lingers in the darkest corners, waiting to sting you. His poison will either make you equally hateful or will make you 'die' and leave that place of work. The sting of this scorpion usually lie in the words of the tales of the rumour-monger as he is usually the spinner of corporate tales. Beware of idle conversations and hurtful gossip.

How can we forget the ostrich of the genus Struthio? It is said that our ostrich friend, that flightless bird, spends a lot of time with his head buried in the sand and can run up to 70 kilometres per hour. Do you know any office ostrich who is oblivious to the work required of him and yet can gallop faster than the 43 mph of our wild life brethren, when confronted?

Then there are the monkeys, you and I. Most of the time we are so busy swinging up and down the trees and aping around, innocently scratching our nether regions, doing what we are told that we never see the predator coming. But according to an article in New Scientist magazine, monkeys can teach us how to survive in the office. Said an article in Mailonline (January 9, 2008) "Studies show that monkeys, chimps and other primates who spend time currying favour with their superiors receive more support in fights. Workers can also learn something from the animal kingdom about the value of not bearing a grudge....Chimps often hug and kiss after a fight, dolphins rub and goats nuzzle. Animal experts said that reconciliation cuts stress and reduces the chances of subsequent flare-ups."

Another piece of advice from the wild is "to be a team player, with studies showing that chimps prefer the company of cooperative sorts. For people, the advice is: be nice and show it." Even the boss is not exempt from the rules of the wild, with studies showing that boorish chimps have to fight constantly to hold rank, raising stress levels for everyone.

If you work in an office you might as well just resign yourself to the fact that it is a jungle. Learn to survive or be eaten alive.

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with ROCommunications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: Visit her website at and post your comments.




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