Prairie Dogs In The Workplace
These cute little rodents live in North America in holes they burrow into the ground. They construct listening post at each entrance of their underground home and members of the prairie dog family stand guard at every entrance. These guardians are called sentinels. Their heads pop out of their holes frequently to survey the land around them. Their job is to alert the rest of the group if a predator ventures to close or is trying to dig them out.
One day I was sitting in my cubicle and I watched my co-worker’s head continuously pop up in her cubicle to insert herself into conversations that didn’t include her. She reminded me of the less endearing version of these cute little creatures. Soon my thoughts took me to other places I’d worked and different heads popping up in cubicles played in my mind. That’s when it came to me – there’s been a prairie dog everywhere I’ve worked.
As I talked to friends they too could identify workplace prairie dogs. We determined they all had similar traits. Their heads popped up in their cubes at the slightest whisper almost always adding their unsolicited two cents, if someone was being reprimanded or if there was food. The biggest trait in common -- they were the office tattle tale and gossip.
The four legged version is not only cute, but they have a noble purpose -- to alert the group to danger so they can flee from the burrows if need be to safety. In contrast, the two legged version is often the harmful troublemaker that scurries around the office waging an attack on office morale and workplace harmony.
The prairie dog in my office was also a clock watcher. Every time someone came in late her head would pop up. She’d check her watch then the clock on the wall. After that she was off. You’d see her moving from cube to cube whispering her tally of how many days that person had been late. In one instance she was obsessed with the arrival time of a male co-worker. She had everyone thinking he was a slacker who was habitually tardy. However, her co-workers were disgusted with her after learning he had been coming in late because his three year old had been diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Management was aware of this and knew in advance about the days he was to be late.
After that people watched what they said around her and walked away when she wanted to gossip or tell on someone. She went from being the office prairie dog to the office pariah. One co-worker tried to talk to her about her behavior, she seemed contrite for a short time, but was soon up to her old tricks.
A close friend of mine said his prairie dog had fleas. He later said it was psoriasis, but his tattled on him. My friend had made a mistake on a client’s order. He was handling it and thought everything was taken care of and the client was happy. His prairie dog ratted him out to his boss and my friend got called on the carpet as a result.
So before I pop my head out of my cube I check to see if there is a prairie dog on the loose. If there is, I flee to safety in some other part of the office.