Gazelles, Lions, and Employee Health, Oh My

Health and Long HoursI’ve had enough of the story of the gazelle and the lion. I’ve had enough with the notion that “survival of the fittest” should be the main mantra of the corporate world. The ultra-Darwinian model of the workplace is utter bullshit.

Know why?

All it does is run employees ragged.

Think about it. We live in a nonstop world. News stories are “old” after eight hours. The cloud, the Internet, mobile devices, Twitter, Facebook, and email make communication instant and incessant.

As a result, a fairly large number of businesses keep the pedal to the metal: all go, no quit, because you have to stay ahead of everybody else or you’ll end up as lion chow. 

I understand the perspective. Really, I do. It does take a lot of hard work to stay ahead of your competitors, especially in today’s world. Technological obsolescence happens far faster than could’ve been imagined twenty years ago.

He must’ve been a lawyer at some point.

However, that doesn’t mean that noses should be kept to the grindstone until everyone ends up looking like Voldemort.

Not only does working many hours hurt morale, increase fatigue, and skyrocket stress (all of which should be a clue that hey, something isn’t quite right here), it bumps up the risk for heart problems.

This is why I worry about the lawyers and new medical residents who put in 80-100 hour weeks. It might be seen as a “rite of passage,” but it’s a practice that goes completely against animal nature.

Yeah, that’s right. Working interminably goes against that “survival of the fittest” ideal many executives actively promote. How deliciously ironic.

As I read The Ape in the Corner Office, I came across a similar discussion of the gazelle/lion story. It turns out that lions and gazelles don’t interact the way the story is told. The real interaction isn’t even close.

Lions are inactive 16-20 hours of the day. They usually hunt around sunrise. Their non-sleeping activities are pretty tame: playing around, mating, patrolling their territory, you get the idea. They do the work they have to do, then relax.

Gazelles? They aren’t running all day. They graze, bounce around to intimidate predators in the area, and will also sound off to let a predator know that the gazelles know of its presence. This will often dissuade predators, including the lion (a generally slower animal than the gazelle).

Not only is the “running lion” story completely false, it perpetuates an unsustainable concept of how humans should work. Humans are animals, remember. We aren’t somehow “above” nature. Unfortunately, many companies (and some entire fields, like law) think rather the opposite, and the effects have not been kind.

Thinking employees are automatons is a hallmark of shoddy leadership. That poor leadership can have detrimental effects, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. (My guess is that the stress didn’t help much.)

On the other hand, treating employees like human beings — giving recognition, making sure employees know they’re contributing, intellectually stimulating them, and not requiring 50+ hour workweeks (I’m looking at you, law and finance) — has a marked benefit, both physically and psychologically.

As the Affordable Care Act gets ready to roll out, and your health insurance policies extend to all your full-timers, you should be working to keep your employees healthy. This means abandoning the Darwinistic “gazelle and lion” lie and embracing a more relaxed style in the workplace.

Has your company ever experienced over-zealous management? Has it successfully navigated away from it? Share your stories below!

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