IS YOUR WORKPLACE A MCGREW’S ZOO?

March 2nd was Dr. Seuss Day and in honor of the Great Seuss, I want to spend a little time reflecting on the workplace zoo.  We know Dr. Seuss, the environmentalist (e.g., The Lorax).  We know Dr. Seuss, the equal rights advocate (e.g., Horton Hears a Who).  But, what about Dr. Seuss, the Human Resources guru?  The wondrous world of Dr. Seuss may seem like pure make-believe.  But, then again, maybe it’s not.  In my View, you can find many of his fantastical creatures right in your own workplace.

So I’d open each cage.  I’d unlock every pen.

Let the animals go, and start over again.

And, somehow or other, I think I could find

Some beasts of a much more un-usual kind.

If I Ran the Zoo (1950)

The Human Resources department is a key component in the collection and categorization of employees.  Searching far and wide for people with diverse backgrounds and unique qualifications can make yours the “gol-darndest [workplace] on the face of the earth.”  It worked for Gerald McGrew.  It can work for you, too.

In fact, Human Resource managers could take a few tips from Gerald McGrew.  For instance, he looked at the typical zoo and decided “a few changes” would make it something special, something better.  He searched all over the world for the most unique animals, each having special characteristics.  That’s what Human Resources can do to diversify their workforce.  So, when you consider your workforce and the folks you will be dealing with, who are the characters you might find?

The Rep

“Mister!” he said with a sawdusty sneeze, “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. 

And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs” –

he was very upset as he shouted and puffed –

“What’s that THING you’ve made out of my Truffala tuft?”

The Lorax (1971) 

Human Resource personnel may interact with employees at a personal level, as well as in a more formal manner.  The Rep may be a union steward, and the interaction governed by a collective bargaining agreement.  He may be the go-between – an employee trusted by co-workers and management alike to share ideas and start discourse on issues affecting the workforce.  Or, he may be the friendly face accompanying an employee who is working through the grievance process.  Regardless, the Rep is most certainly in your workplace, so make sure you follow the policies and procedures in place when dealing with this individual.  He will know the rules of engagement, be they peaceable or not, from the get-go.  Communication with the Rep should not be viewed necessarily as a bad thing, either.  When The Lorax could not get the Once-ler to talk through the problems he was creating, everyone suffered great loss.  It would be a shame not to make such an effort in your workplace, unless, of course, that person is actually . . .

The Stirrer 

“I know some good games we could play,” Said the cat. 

“I know some new tricks,” Said the Cat in the Hat.

“A lot of good tricks.  I will show them to you. 

Your mother will not mind at all if I do.”

Then Sally and I did not know what to say.

Our mother was out of the house for the day.

The Cat in the Hat (1957)

The Stirrer likes to cause trouble.  He is an HR nightmare, unless you shut him down.  The key to this is communication with your employees.  The Stirrer enjoys creating discomfort and chaos in the workplace.  He will bend words and filter events in the least positive light just to see what happens.  If you can discuss the subject of The Stirrer’s current focus with your employees, do so.  If you give your workers the facts, you take away one of the arrows in The Stirrer’s quiver – misinformation.  Once you’ve done that, talk to The Stirrer, and explain why his behavior is unacceptable.  State your expectations for improvement, and follow up to make sure he’s received the message.  It’s possible a little re-direction is all he needs.  After all, the Cat cleaned up his mess in the end.

The Dumper 

Sighed Mazie, a lazy bird hatching an egg: 

“I’m tired and I’m bored and I’ve kinks in my leg

From sitting, just sitting here day after day.

It’s work! How I hate it! I’d much rather play!

I’d take a vacation, fly off for a rest

If I could find someone to stay on my nest!”

Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)

This is the employee who has a last minute emergency on a regular basis.  She’s the employee who’s eager to team up and then sloughs off all the work onto others (while managing to be there for all of the credit).  The Dumper sucks the camaraderie out of your workplace.  Your treatment of The Dumper may have more impact on the rest of the workforce than on the The Dumper herself:  “That’s only small trouble.  I know it.  But, brother, one small bit of trouble will lead to another!”  [How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town (Oct. 1950)].  So, train your managers to recognize effort, as well as results.  When doling out assignments to The Dumper, stay task oriented with set deadlines to the extent possible.  Should discipline be necessary down the line, you’ll have a paper trail of your efforts to change The Dumper into . . .

The Do-Er 

“You do not like them.  So you say. 

Try them!  Try them! And you may. 

Try them and you may, I say.”

Green Eggs and Ham (1960)

Was there ever a more persistent, more positive go-getter than Sam-I-Am?  This employee is the one who gets things done.  For Human Resources, The Do-Er is your superstar, and you want to keep him.  You want to groom others to be like this employee.  With The Do-Er, you and your managers should be looking for what motivates him.  Recognition and money may not be enough.  Autonomy, upward mobility, even working in an environment that does not suffer fools (see The Dumper) may be factors impacting whether you can keep your Do-Er happy and on the payroll.

The Hawk

Oh, the jobs people work at!  Out west, near Hawtch-Hawtch,

there’s a Hawtch-Hawtcher Bee-Watcher.  His job is to watch . . .

is to keep both his eyes on the lazy town bee.

A bee that is watched will work harder, you see.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (1973)

The Hawk is a manager who presents different challenges for Human Resources.  She may be the micromanager who can’t let anything go.  She might be the manager who believes her employees are inherently lazy and must constantly be watched.  Either Hawk can damage workplace morale.  In Hawtch-Hawtch, a Hawtch-Hawtcher Bee-Watcher was employed, and another, and another, with the bee never working any harder.  Manager training can help The Hawk tone down her management style to the level of supervision commensurate with the job being done.

Point of View 

Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish,

If a fellow is patient, he might get his wish!

McElligot’s Pool (1947)

If your wish is a happy, productive workforce, then knowing the employees you’re likely to meet can help make that wish come true.  Dr. Seuss introduced us to a lot of these types, including the Nerd, I might say.  But, we’ll save that one for some other day.

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
 
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