The Workplace Jungle
The other day I had a typical day at work. Got there, put my lunch away and went to my desk. It was a perfectly normal day until I saw the new hires on their first real day on the job. They were right out of training hitting the unique sales floor unsuspecting of what they may encounter. I look back at my first day and what was in my field of vision. To be honest, it wasn’t much. There were the people next to me and my screen, that’s it. As someone who’s been there for a little while now my field of vision has altered. I notice those around me, the people walking around, the people I make it a point to speak to and the people I know to avoid. I watch the cliques in their daily meetings, stressed out supervisors trying to meet deadlines, the solo loners, and many other things. My field of vision has expanded exponentially, and I took it upon myself to make sure the tenure of these newbies are met with ease and flawless navigation.
For some, social settings can be difficult to navigate with all the unspoken rules and taboo, you may not even know where you fit in. Nonetheless, as intricate cogs of the machine known as society, we make it work, day in and day out. However, there is a particular setting, a jungle, that is one of the most challenging to navigate. Not just any jungle, but The Workplace Jungle. As some of you know, I learn best by using analogies and examples. After successfully switching jobs after five years on the same career path, I can honestly say it’s not THAT hard if you know the players of the game.
The Prey: Newbies
At the bottom of every food chain you have the least experienced, the wet-behind-the-ears, the rookies, if you may. They only have the picture that their top tier training provided them, that picture was maybe overly pretty with Disney-esque ambiance and happy goodie two shoes employees. The real thing? Probably one of those national geographic specials where the cheetah hunts gazelles all day, viciously. We all know whenever you get a job offer it’s a grandiose thing, it’s human nature to feel good about winning. A job application is a competition with others, as well as a chance to toot your own horn in the most elaborate and professional way possible. If it pays off the reward is worth it.
So walking into the jungle, rookies usually come very ill prepared. No tricks, no life hacks, no navigation skills. The Prey are usually very open to things, happy to just be there, and are eager to find their place. They are running their days behind the wheel blindfolded, trying to figure it all out. Few things are more innocent for an adult. Why? As an adult you’ve experienced so many firsts that when you start a new job it’s that feeling all over again. Your first day of high school, your first day of college. It’s a rush of the unknown that happens less and less as you get older. It’s such a pure and exciting feeling! I still remember having to be taught how to use a Keurig at my new office. How do you know the ounces? Which coffee should I try? This nativity leaves newbies at the hands of the other inhabitants of the jungle. These are other players in the Jungle; The Wise and The Predators. Imagine these people as a pack of Mowgli cubs just finding their way through the jungle. They are not going to know much at all and are going to be looking for ways to get by and all the help they can get.
The Fodder: Angsty Coasters
This group of people may or may not be the group anyone, especially newbies, want to hang around with. They’re the workers that scare others with “realness” about the office. Co-workers will hear these fodders scoff, produce a lot of “matter of fact” snob statements, and say snide remarks under their breath. They are going to tell those around them they know how the “system” works and complain about everything. Fodders will be those who kill good vibes with their negativity. They only have negativity to offer and think they have it all figured out. What is strange is that despite “knowing everything” their performance does not reflect the knowledge they claim to have. If you have all the secrets and the hacks, you should be performing well right? These workplace rebels are always making you feel uncomfortable because they are constantly telling you they want to quit or that they think everything is “bull.” Every conversation you have with one of these people will make you wonder, “omg will I get to that point?” or “damn when’s this person just gonna quit.” They don’t offer much useful advice so don’t bother even thinking about it. In addition to being lazy these coasters also tend to rebel. They are the ones who come in late, leave early, avoid their duties, and break rules simply because they don’t believe in them.
In my personal experience I tend to stay away from this group. For instance, someone of this group at my own jungle literally had a temper tantrum because he didn’t have permission to leave work early for whatever reason. By “whatever reason” I mean something very minuscule like partying. Personally, I take my job very seriously so in most cases, If I need to work, I need to work. Point blank. Of course, Mr. Rebel Fodder threw a tantrum and left anyways. In the end, he no longer works there. In other instances these same people are trying to cut corners and are blatantly defiant because they feel as though they should be as successful as others with way less work put in. Doesn’t make too much sense but to them it does. In a jungle these guys will be the lazy sloths, or the rebel hyena of the pack. They either fall into the background, or bark loud with a weak bite.
The Predators: Cutthroat Vets
Moving up the food chain, we have those co-workers that have been in the jungle but stick to themselves. They get a good kick of showing off what they know, being cynics, and stepping over whoever they need to in order to get their way. These are the predators. Depending if they like you or not you could be in for a tough time dealing with them; yet they love to boast about their accomplishments. You can view them one of two ways: either they are selfish by not sharing the knowledge they have amassed or one could argue that they are self made employees who have gotten far by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. They believe in every man for themselves and they are not shy about it. At times, it is like they intentionally try to get spoiled by higher ups.
Prey can fall to the hands of these predators by aimlessly seeking help from them and probably getting snarky remarks back or misguided advice. In their own right they are solid employees, but care little for team effort. Be wary around these individuals as you don’t want to get in their way. In a sense, there is nothing necessarily wrong or negative about this group of inhabitants of the jungle. They just might not be the most helpful to newer inhabitants of the workplace jungle. They may be this way because they did not receive help when they first started, figuring out the ropes and achieving success on their own as well. Imagine, the tigers and jaguars of the jungle that hunt for themselves. You stay out their way because well you don’t want the problems!
The Wise: Helpful Vets
Not only are these office veterans great performers, but they also share the knowledge they have accrued over their time. These are going to be people bred for management, and who have a genuine care to see their business succeed through having a strong team. These wise vets make sure they are doing well and also uplift those around them. While they are on par with their performance with the predator vets, they go the extra mile with their strong sense of team effort. This is mainly where they differ from the predator group. These wise employees spread the wealth of knowledge while consistently performing well and undertaking roles of mentorship within the office. It’s as if they are able to see the potential in the prey’s survival skill, even when they are unable to notice it in themselves. If it wasn’t for a few of these guys I would not be where I am now. In my first department I struggled to catch onto the swing of things. Thankfully, a couple of established individuals saw what I could do and made sure to bring it out of me. They worked hard right beside me to make sure everyday I was doing the job right as well as getting better. With some kicks in the asses and some tough-love coaching I made it as far as I have now. These vets are the mama and papa bears that tell you what you need to hear in order to reach eventual success in the jungle food chain.
So yeah, these are gonna be the people you encounter. Like the saying goes, it’s who you know, not what you know. However in this case you definitely want to share what you know, or at least I do. Don’t get caught up with drama, and place yourself around those that will radiate success your way. Don’t rely solely on your connections; perfect your craft, put in the work, own each day and make your place of employment what you want it to be. As for me, navigating the jungle wasn’t terrible. Thankfully, early on, I was able to find those trustworthy individuals that helped me along the way. Once it was clear someone was negatively impacting my office experience, they took an immediate back seat in my workplace habitat. Personally, any negative energy or person was not welcome into my little piece of the jungle. Just like a jungle can be a terrifying location, it can also be a place of joy and growth.The workplace needs to be one you enjoy or else why be there? There are literally millions of jobs out there, it makes no sense to stick with one you absolutely hate – no matter the payout. It was a long journey to go from prey to where I am now. These days I personally categorize myself as ¾ of my way to a Helpful Vet. I am still learning, everyday, not only about the job, but how to help others. By no means am I saying this is what any of you all have to do. Make your workplace what you want it to be. I’m not telling anyone what to do. You can advance on your own never looking back, you can quit, you can even decide to switch your whole damn career, if that’s your choice. As long as it’s what you really want to do.
The workplace, just like anything in life,
it is what you make it.
Under-promising and over-delivering,
Mr. The Talent.