The workplace jungle: Tricks used by monkeys hold keys to success in the office


Last updated at 19:44 09 January 2008

Anyone losing out to the big beasts in a bout of office politics might start to think their workplace is something of a jungle.

And, according to researchers, that insight could hold the key to getting up the career ladder.

For studies show that the tricks used by monkeys and chimps to survive in the wild can also bring success in the office.

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"The office and the jungle are surprisingly similar," says a report in this week's New Scientist.

"Both are ruled by stringent hierarchies, they are grounded in the need for co-operation, and complicated by the drive to compete.

"Add in the risk of hostile takeovers, a marketplace of favours and favourites, brazen opportunism and a long-held tradition of brown-nosing, and you can't tell the savannah from a forest of cubicles."

The magazine sets out five "rules of the jungle" that would apply equally in the office.

It said: "If you're stumped by office politics, or want to learn the best way to deal with aggressive colleagues or unreasonable bosses, then our wilder cousins may offer a few insights into how to survive the office jungle."

The magazine cited a U.S. study which found that monkeys, just like people, resent being treated unfairly and even go on strike when they believe they've been given a raw deal.

The researchers trained the creatures to trade pebbles for food - either a slice of cucumber or a much more highly-prized grape.

If the scientists gave one monkey a grape and another just a piece of cucumber for doing the same thing, the short-changed creature would effectively go on strike by refusing to participate any further.

Translated into office behaviour, this led to the first rule - avoid taking credit for work that is done collectively.

New Scientist said office relationships break down when workers hijack colleagues' projects and that employees should not brag about their salaries.

While it is good to have your colleagues on side, keeping in with your boss - rule number two - may be even more important.

Studies show that monkeys, chimps and other primates who spend time currying favour with their superiors receive more support in fights.

Workers can also learn something from the animal kingdom about the value of not bearing a grudge - rule number three.

Chimps often hug and kiss after a fight, dolphins rub and goats nuzzle. Animal experts said that reconciliation cuts stress and reduces the chances of subsequent flareups.

The fourth piece of advice from the wild is to be a team player, with studies showing that chimps prefer the company of cooperative sorts.

For people, the advice is: be nice and show it. This can be achieved by simple strategies such as buying cakes or making tea.

Even the boss is not exempt from the rules of the wild, with studies showing that boorish chimps have to fight constantly to hold rank, raising stress levels for everyone.

New Scientist said being a good boss - rule number five - was a careful balancing act of control, leadership and motivation.