My day started out with a little private funeral for a young chicken. My raincoat is muddy and my hair is flat from the drizzle. And I’m sad. I was checking on the chicks for a friend who is out of town.

Within a few minutes time, I learned more about chickens than I ever wanted to know. There was the smell of death as I approached the coop. Two big healthy chickens that had just started laying eggs the week before were restless. There was a hole, about the size of a weasel, dug in the floor of the pen from the outside. Apparently the intruder stole the eggs but left the chickens alone, but stressed. Inside the cage, however, was a dead little chicken, apparently pecked to death.

So holding an umbrella, I filled in the hole from the outside, knowing it had to be repaired better than that by nightfall or there would be more casualties. With a shovel, I carefully removed the poor little chicken and buried her, then returned to the coop to see what had happened.

Apparently, it’s not unusual for chickens to peck at each other to establish a pecking order. (Who knew?) It sounds a bit like many of our places of business. OK. A little harassment of the new kid, a bit of picking on those with different feathers, a little competition to keep things interesting seems relatively common: maybe not optimal or healthy, but certainly not surprising. But where does one draw the line? How can casualties be prevented? How can you create an environment that keeps employees from getting pecked to death by co-workers?

Yes, you can separate out those who seem to be more prone to pecking. You can protect the newbies with a mentor or a safe place to learn before being thrown in with the bigger flock. You can even monitor the productivity of each and protect some weasel from coming in and stealing your eggs. But, as I read up on preventing chickens from pecking each other to death, there seem to be some parallels in providing a work environment that doesn’t breed “pickers,” and keeps all the chickens feeling happily productive. So here’s my take.

It important to understand that some pecking is normal, but vicious pecking is a learned behavior, much like bullying. The more it is allowed to go on, the more destructive it will become. Therefore, a good manager will be observant and calmly, but firmly address the issue as soon as it rears its head, and stop it from happening.

Just like chickens, people need space and freedom: physical, emotional and spiritual. It helps if an office is laid out with this in mind. Workers need room to think and don’t respond well to constant monitoring and micromanaging. They need to ability to get up, walk around, stretch their legs and clear their heads. This gets oxygen flowing more freely and reduces stress. It releases adrenalin and cortisol, so that the body and brain can be more efficient and creative. Employees need the freedom to be able to close the door or walk outside and find some time to take some deep breaths or even meditate for a few minutes. This strengthens decision-making skills and executive functioning. I read an article recently about a disturbing trend during job interviews, designed to measure how much of one’s personal time candidates are willing to give up for the good of the company. Creating no time for re-grouping and resting is a sure-fire way to lower a company’s productivity.

Maintaining a culture of wellness is a wise way for employers to increase job satisfaction and increase productivity. More ways to lower stress hormones are to drink a calming cup of tea, eat some lean protein or some fruit or veggies. Just like the chickens, part of controlling stress is maintaining a healthy diet.

While these things are important quick fixes, it’s beneficial to the body, mind and spirit to practice certain routines on a regular basis, such as meditation, gratitude, and mindfulness (embracing the moment.) Limiting behaviors such as being reactive, judgmental, disrespectful and holding grudges will reduce your stress levels almost immediately. Of course you have a right to do these things, but they increase stress, and cause you to be more susceptible to an “us versus them” mentality. This kind of thinking contributes to a pecking mentality, which ultimately, ironically, results in your pecking yourself to death, because the harmful hormones are being released in your body. So just because you have a right to think something or do something doesn’t mean it’s helpful or healthy. These things are actually counter-productive and cause you to be less effective in accomplishing the task at hand.

So just like the chickens, if you are well fed, given lots of room to grow and express yourself, get plenty of rest (physically, mentally and spiritually), you will be happier and more productive in your environment…and enjoy life more. Chickens who are happy, healthy and stress free are less likely to peck anyone to death. Win/win.

 

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