Elephants in the Workplace!
researcher recently reported in the journal New
Scientist on the results of her study of an unfortunate
phenomenon occurring in Kenya. Young male elephants more than
ever before are going on rampages which inflict serious damage
on farms, fences and crops.
first glance, it might appear that these problems are the
result of the territorial clashes between humans and
elephants, which consume so much food (an estimated 220 to 400
pounds per individual per day) that they require a food court
larger than Minnesotas Mall of the Americas.
However, this researcher proposes
a theory from which we can all learn. She believes that the
phenomenon of out-of-control youths - especially male
youths - derives from a breakdown of the traditional
family and social development structure of the
With poaching and culling, the
matriarchal family life of the elephant is disrupted as more
and more young creatures are without mothers. The result is
they mature and migrate by themselves, without the guidance,
the learning opportunities and the role models that
traditional family life has afforded them for
Take these basic infrastructure
foundations away, and the young elephants are left to create
their own relationships built upon violent power. These are
relationships which resemble human gangs, as well as
behavioral disorders manifesting in violent outbursts. Carry
that forward several generations and new "family models"
emerge that do not bode well for species survival. Poaching
would be joined by sanctioned human intervention to kill
violent elephants causing even more species
Stability and adaptation to
changing circumstances lose out to the champions of violence,
ruled by physical strength, ferocity and threats. This
scenario sounds a lot like the gang violence dominating parts
of the world, including parts of the United States.
There are lessons to be learned
for the workplace. Increasingly human resources as a
profession responds to behavioral threats at work. Certainly
these include bullying and violence, but they also include the
clones of such poor behavior as sexual harassment, unlawful
discrimination and generally heightened workplace
a much more subtle, but still serious note, is the challenge
of dealing with employees who seem to do brilliantly until
several hours after they successfully complete a probationary
period. At that point they are "knighted" with a title and
entitlements of a "permanent" employee. Suddenly their
behavior may change to the point where they are no longer
considered a go-to employee, but a "get-away-from" person.
Supervisors and managers often lack the training, experience
and confidence to be able to figure out how to approach these
employees constructively. The fact is that they may well have
been promoted from among the ranks of employees displaying the
Sadly, response and reaction are
far more likely to occur than proaction and
When a problem occurs in the
workplace, we often substitute neglect and walking-by behavior
instead of providing a stable and clear vision with
consistently applied guidelines. We fail to invest the time
and resources we need to encourage and appreciate supervisors
who effectively coach, document, train and intervene to
prevent instead of enable problem behavior.
elephants face a bleak future in the wild. This is a
consequence of stable family structure and next- generation
development giving way to chaos. The same threats put the
workplace at risk and create an environment of opportunities
for predatory plaintiff attorneys.
When it comes to overt or subtle
choices, such as intervention and supervisory development
versus neglect and reaction, a great danger is that we will
default to the latter. The result will be that the public
service-oriented species will also face depredation.
Generations of harm to taxpayers will occur, services that
could have been improved will not be, and customer service
encounters at the front counters of business and local
governments will resemble a rogue elephant encounter instead
of a spectacular service opportunity.
Dont be an agency leader who
lapses into a coma when it comes to making a decision to be
proactive. It takes time to see the results of investments in
the future of accountability instead of liability. Like the
mating of elephants, there is a lot of noise and trumpeting.
There is a lot of high-level contact but nothing may happen
for two years. Start now to corral the rogue!