quotes Are you a fish or chicken at work?

21 March 2024
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Updated 21 March 2024

Are you a fish or chicken at work?

A few years ago, a colleague, an expert in his field and who I respect deeply, shared an analogy about workplace dynamics that has stuck with me. He talked about two types of workers: some are like fish, laying hundreds of eggs quietly under the water, and others are like chickens, laying just one egg but making sure the whole farm knows about it. This idea pops into my head now and then, especially when I encounter someone who fits one of these extremes.

Consider the silent fish, those working tirelessly behind the scenes, their efforts as unseen as fish eggs beneath the water. Preferring their work to do the talking, they avoid the spotlight, but have to face up to the fact that their labors are overlooked. They become even quieter because some colleagues undervalue and trivialize their contributions.

This underestimation is ironically a testament to their mastery. Their handling of apparently ‘simple’ tasks has been refined by years of experience and skill. The expertise of silent fish is far from routine. In fact, what feels to them as ordinary and ‘just part of the job’ could be extraordinary to their peers.

Then there are the chickens, always ready to announce their achievements, big or small, making sure they are noticed. They might not do as much as the fish, but they are masters at getting recognized. They make sure that they will receive some sort of recognition, even for a tiny task, and sometimes overshadow the silent efforts of the fish. Some even claim work they have not done as their own. Their persistent hunt for visibility, driven by the misconception that their value is measured solely by praise, often leads them to diminish the contributions of their more reserved and accomplished counterparts.

Key to a healthier workplace is showing vocal chickens that recognition is not a win-lose situation. There is room for everyone’s achievements to be celebrated. Vocal chickens need to learn that true success and impact often come from lifting others as you climb, not from climbing over others. It is about sharing the spotlight and appreciating the quieter contributions of their colleagues. This shift in perspective not only strengthens their role within the team but also contributes to a more collaborative and supportive team dynamic.

The wisdom shared by my colleague highlights the importance of both types of workers. The persistent effort of the fish keeps the engine of our workplaces running, while the chickens inject vital energy and visibility. Recognizing and valuing the contributions of both can enrich our work environment. Encouraging silent fishes to step into the light with updates on their work can help them gain the recognition they deserve. Meanwhile, vocal chickens could benefit from learning that constant visibility is not always necessary; true recognition comes from genuine contribution.

Management is key in balancing the quiet work of the silent fish with the loud successes of the vocal chickens. By valuing every kind of contribution, managers can foster a team culture where everyone feels supported. It is crucial for leaders to help the quiet ones share more for everyone to see their work’s impact. This not only boosts individual careers but also elevates the whole team’s creativity and efficiency. Promoting a culture where achievements are collectively celebrated and where everyone’s efforts are equally recognized ensures that success is a shared journey, not a solo race.

Whether you resonate more with the fish, the chicken, or find yourself somewhere in-between, the ultimate aim is harmony. Encouraging silent fish to share their successes and vocal chickens to appreciate the consistent, quieter efforts of others enriches our work environment. This is not just about our individual work styles; it is about fostering a culture of recognition and appreciation for the diverse ways we contribute to our shared goals.

Reflecting on this analogy shows us the value in every contribution, quiet or loud. We should strive for workplaces where both silent fish and vocal chickens do well, appreciating and learning from each other. So to those silent fish out there, your efforts are crucial and often lead to breakthroughs. And for the vocal chickens, sharing the spotlight showcases your leadership and teamwork. Together, every role adds to your collective success.

Let us strive for a workplace environment where every egg, visible or not, is acknowledged and valued.

  • Firas Abussaud is a petroleum engineering systems specialist with more than 21 years of experience in the industry. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and a Master of Science qualification in construction engineering and management from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. Beyond his technical expertise, he is interested in photography, graphic design and artificial intelligence.