What Zoos Can Teach Us About Employee Performance

I walked into a client’s office yesterday optimistic and full of life. A great nights sleep, healthy breakfast and ahead of schedule. I was ready to conquer the day.

I sat down in my office disguised as a cubicle and jumped right in. Then an unexpected turn of events happened.  After my first meeting I started to feel drained. My Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah pep turned into a series of yawns and random walks around the building to revive myself. No worries, I recovered and got my groove back right before meeting #2. After meeting #2 all shit broke loose. I felt myself completely unmotivated and almost stir crazy. Yikes! I couldn’t even get myself to look at the computer screen let alone get anything accomplished. I was being overtaken by the ugh syndrome before noon! I thought, “Oh, no. What’s happening?”

I started looking around at all the gray–I noticed everything was literally covered in gray. All I could hear was the humming of the air system and florescent lights. Without realizing what was happening all my stuff was packed in my bag and I jetted out the door as fast as possible. I felt absolute relief once I got into my car and started driving away. From there I decided to work from home and the day began to turn itself around.

So what happened at the office? What in the world came over me? I’m not Sherlock Holmes but the mystery was not too difficult to solve.

First, I’m not alone. In fact, there’s a good chance most of you reading this blog have experienced this phenomenon multiple times in your work life. A phenomenon caused by one simple fact–you’re a living human being. Yep, being alive caused me to jump out of the cubical and run for the door. Here’s why…

When you’re at work, you’re no different from an animal in a zoo. Follow me here, it’ll make sense. Have you ever seen a wild animal running and playing freely in its native habitat? They’re happy and performing at their best. Compare that to an open zoo where animals roam in beautiful habitats similar to their natural environment? Not always ideal, but for the most part the animals are relatively satisfied. Now go a step further… Compare the last two examples to a zoo that puts animals in covered cages with concrete floors and glass walls where they stare at the same damn thing everyday. In the last example animals become depressed, slow, sleepy and unmotivated to interact and play with each other. For a human, working in gray cubical land can create the same feeling as being an animal held captive in a concrete cage.

Morale to the story… environment plays a significant role in how productive a person is at work. Air quality, lighting, plants, music, natural light and color all ramp performance up or drive it down into the ground. Even the direction you face in your cubical can play a significant role in how you feel and you’re ability to focus. Feng Shui at the office works. That said, if you don’t have the luxury of designing your office space try these tips to revive your mojo the next time you’re feeling squirrely at work:

  1. Drink water: Believe it or not water is scientifically proven to have the same “wake-up your soul” effect as coffee–but better! Water will keep you hydrated and alert without the crash. By no means am I telling you to stop drinking coffee. I love the stuff! Just keep it balanced and make sure you’re drinking more H2O especially on those days you need to focus.
  2. Just add color: I know, can it get more basic?! Yes, the human mind needs color. Again proven, lack of color is one of the most significant reasons you’re falling asleep at your deck. For you business owners out there, if your office is covered in gray you’re simply asking for employees to fall asleep. An easy fix for those who feel they have no choice, start splashing your work area with colors that energize and keep you moving.
  3. Plants, plants and more plants: Fill your space with greenery! And no, plastic does not count. If you’re scared of killing your new green friend buy a Chinese Evergreen, they’re durable, hearty and can go longer than most plants without water or sunlight. Here’s the deal, plants aren’t just pretty they’ll purify your air and keep you alert. If your office has a no plant policy break the rules and sneak one in any way! Your boss will thank you when they see your performance improve.
  4. Headphones: If you want to keep your groove moving at work start listening to your favorite tunes while cranking away on that spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation. From classical to death metal…makes no difference just so long as it makes your heart sing and keeps you focused.
  5. Go into the wild: Like animals you do better in your natural habitat. If you have the ability to work from home do it. If not, leave the building at least every couple of hours to breathe some fresh air. Even five minutes of fresh air and walking can turn your day around. And for those freeze babies who live in the arctic tundra with me, throw on a hat, coat and gloves and start walking! You’ll be glad you did guaranteed.

Gina Soleil, is a speaker and acclaimed author of Fuel Your Business: How to energize people, ignite action and drive profit. She blogs and speaks about how to create a business where people are energized, feel good and are happy. Email Gina Soleil and follow her on Twitter. 

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