Living in a “Stressed Out” Zoo: The Giraffe, Cat, and Monkey

It is generally accepted that each of us is affected and deals with stress differently.  Nevertheless, there are some things in the workplace that impact us all:

  • feeling out of control of workload or environment;
  • failing to know where the organization or work group is going;
  • lacking a sense of direction;
  • failing to meet goals;
  • managing time poorly;
  • dealing with major changes; and
  • adjusting to changing expectations.

Prolonged exposure to stress can cause physical, emotional, and behavioral problems.   This combination of problems impacts a worker’s health as well as personal and professional relationships due to defensiveness, low motivation, poor productivity, and conflict.  In addition, for years, medical researchers have linked stress to high blood pressure and heart disease.

In our last post, we discussed how one manager summarized his workplace as being like a “zoo” due to employee stress.  Based on the conversation that ensued, three animal types were discussed that tend to emerge as employees respond to workplace stress: giraffe, big cats, and monkeys.


My niece and nephew love giraffes.  When my sister takes them to the zoo they will put change into a machine that drops grass near the observation area and they excitedly await the arrival of the tall, graceful animals.  The giraffes slowly make their way over before bending down to pick up the grass and look into the observation area.  The giraffe represents those employees that withdraw and remain aloof to the on-goings of the workplace when they feel stressed.  As they slowly move along to regain their composure, they feel they are “above” everything else and only look down on the rest of us when they have to out of necessity.   The condescending attitude creates hard feelings with peers and makes employees feel factionalized or divided in a time when coming together helps reduce the impact of stress.

Big Cat

The big cats are a hit in any zoo and the crowd usually attests to their popularity.  There is something amazing about watching those majestic beasts up close without the fear of being devoured if the mood strikes them. In the workplace, stress can bring aggression, pensiveness, and anxiety.  Some employees respond by pacing back and forth waiting to pounce on someone that crosses their path.  Rarely, is the “prey” the cause of the aggressiveness, it is just a poor soul that wonders by the big cat when it is having a bad day.  How many times have you heard an overworked employee make the statement that “the next person that comes through that door and asks me something is going to get it?”


The antics and personality of the monkeys seem to mesmerize most of us.  How many times have you compared the behavior of our children, friends, or co-workers to monkeys? When I was a child, my mother would tell my sister and I that “she knew monkeys that acted better than we did.” In retrospect, I am not sure how many monkeys my mother knew, but at the time we greeted the rebuke with a sense of pride.   When managers visual the chimpanzees and talk about how they capture the actions of their employees they are referring to those bored chimps that throw poop at each other to settle petty bickering.  If stress does not bring out the aggressiveness of the big cat, it usually manifests in the antics of the chimp.  Negativity is the root cause of most of the actions in this group and it can cause personal as well as professional issues.

I think most of us can sympathize that we all face one if not all of these delightful creatures from time to time in our workplace.  Most of us do not relish being ignored, devoured, or bickered with while at work.  So, our next post will discuss how we can tame each group and harness the stress for more positive outcomes.


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