Is There a Squirrel in Your Office?

office squirrel

Someone in the office is driving you nuts. Hoarding information and forgetting where they stashed it. Zipping from one thing to another without any focus. Running ahead of the team. Tough to pin down. Does this sneaky co-worker sound familiar?

Chances are, you are working with one of the most common pests that runs rampant in the workplace — the office squirrel.

And you are not alone. Squirrels are found in nearly every habitable region of the world, except Australia. (Although Australia has plenty of other creatures to contend with.) There are more than 200 different species of squirrels found in nature. Probably even more in the workplace.

Like their wild counterparts, the office squirrel is quite active and scattered. The team wastes time tracking down or covering for things this person did or did not do. On top of that, the office squirrel can be both charming and good at hiding. This makes it easy for people to excuse or overlook the bad behavior.

It is a distraction and a drain on the team’s resources. So whether you are a leader in title or action, you owe it to yourself and your teammates to address the furry creature head-on.

Here are the signs there is a squirrel running wild in your office:

Darting from task to task
The office squirrel likes to run ahead of the plan, doing work when it is convenient for them. Help them by showing how this impacts the overall schedule for the work. Only when everybody is in sync can the team hope to stay on target and achieve its goals.

Distracted by shiny objects
Not only does this person not stick to the plan, but they also have a short attention span. You will catch them moving on to chase a new idea without completing the one they were just on. Keep focus where it needs to be — on the goals.

Hoarding knowledge for the winter
Did you know that squirrels fake hiding nuts to thwart thieves? The office squirrel likes to hoard and fake people out, too. Sometimes for deception and sometimes for the lean times. They think that if they amass knowledge and projects that nobody else has, it makes them too valuable to get rid of. Combat this fear with a culture of openness and trust. Show the squirrel you are all on the same team.

Flicking in frustration
Squirrels are actually quite smart. If they get frustrated by a task, they will first flick and whip their bushy tail in annoyance. If you see the office squirrel acting out when they are vexed, do not join in on the dramatics.

Strutting their fluff
Squirrels can be so darn adorable. It is one of their most dangerous weapons. If called out, they play coy and try to pass themselves off as innocently unaware that they are doing anything wrong. Stay firm and give honest feedback.

Running to their den
The office squirrel makes a dash for their hiding hole when there is work to be done. They are nowhere to be found. Remember, it is not your job to chase them down. It is enough to kindly remind them of their role in the plan so they can see the impact their work — or lack of work — has on the team.

Do not give in to the office squirrel’s frenzied antics. Know that most of the nutty behavior is a result of fear and worry.

Show kindness instead. You will find that even the zippiest of co-workers will be much happier as a valuable contributor to a successful team.

What other nutty behaviors does your office squirrel display?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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Comments

  1. Mary E Shinabarger

    Aha! (and at the same time, Ugh!)
    I just realized I might be the office squirrel! I do have some of the traits you mention, like jumping from task to task. However, in defense of squirrels worldwide, I believe I do this with my natural rhythm. I, as I am sure many others, have different levels of productiveness throughout the day. If I try to focus on an intense task from about 2 in the afternoon until about 3:30 or 4, I usually fail miserably. It can take me twice as long to do a focused task when I am in that zone. I can force some productive frenzy by chugging loads of caffeine. However, I am often on some “kick the caffeine habit.” and it just isn’t an option.

    If I try the same intense task at 5 am, as soon as I roll out of bed, then, Wow! What a crazy difference! From 5 in the morning until about 10 am I can work non-stop on intense, focus-heavy tasks. I often look-up from my desk around 10 or 11 and realize I missed breakfast, a bathroom-break and getting my morning tea. Oh heck, I’ll even admit that when I work at home, I may forget to brush my teeth and get dressed. The typical morning routine; shower, dress, food, etc. often works best for me to accomplish during the afternoon brain-mush time. Am I alone in this? When working at an outside office, I use my afternoon productivity lull to do repetitive, monotonous tasks that do not take as much brain power.

    I don’t think I do any of the other “squirrel traits” you mention, such as flicking my tail or hoarding information. Actually, I am an oversharer at times. Communication is key! I do however fit into the “chasing shiny objects” category you mention, and you are right. There are plenty of times I do not stick to the plan. I have lived through the painful fallout of that. However, I have also rejoiced over discovering a solution by chasing a shiny object all the way down the rabbit hole. A solution that my linear pals are outstandingly perplexed with.

    I do understand everyone’s frustration with a seemingly negative trait – in a linear world. However, creativity is not an easy, shiny object to capture. It’s like sunlight. It can go everywhere, brighten a space, and yes, “bounce” around. A creative spirit can be harnessed to work within some boundaries, but it shouldn’t be stuffed in a can with rigid walls. Creativity can not be taught and therefore is often misunderstood, like a sneaky squirrel. However, it can be observed, honored, even revered, as a unique individual trait.

    “We cannot solve a problem by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

    Reply

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