Blessed Are the Worker Bees

I was recently told that when I referred to some of my coworkers as “worker bees,” they felt it was offensive. Given how our society undervalues ordinary people in favor of celebrities and “reality” media stars, I can see how that might be that case for some. Not surprisingly, I have a dissenting opinion.

It goes back to when I was a teenager. Set the wayback machine to the late 1970s. Star Wars was shiny and new. Microcomputers like the Apple II and the TRS-80 were cutting edge. And my parents bought a house in the middle of the San Fernando Valley on a half-acre of land.

A rose from the Cotswolds.
A rose from the Cotswolds.

Dad did a lot to fix the place up, like planting a rose garden for my mom that he never promised her, refurbishing the detached garage so I could have a space of my own, and planting a fairly extensive orchard. At one point, we even had goats! But I digress…

As part of the Orchard Project, Dad and I did a lot of things. We became members of the California Rare Fruit Growers, a non-profit organization of rare exotic fruit enthusiasts, who we came to affectionately call the “California Rare Fruits.” We also studied our local climate and which kinds of fruit would prosper within it. And we got several beehives in the hope that the bees would help our orchard to thrive.

It was at this point that I learned a lot about bees, beekeeping, and how these amazing insects fit into larger ecological systems. I also learned several critical facts that translate into other realms, even to corporate functionality and the basic realities of how things get done in general.

First, I learned that worker bees are the heroes of any hive. Without them, no pollen is collected, no honey is made, no new bees survive to adulthood, and the hive in general will fail. Yes, the Queen is important and all, but all she really does is lay eggs. The worker bees are the ones who care for her young, feeding them, cleaning them, and generally seeing to their needs while they mature.

A honey bee collecting pollen from wildflowers.
A honey bee collecting pollen from wildflowers.

And worker bees do so much more! They guard the hive from invaders, see to its upkeep and repair, make the wax that provides the internal structure for the hive, and forage for new sources of water, pollen, and other essentials when local resources no longer suffice. They even remove debris and dead bees from the hive and regulate the temperature within the hive by fanning their wings to cool the hive during hot weather or clustering together to generate heat during colder periods.

Did I say the worker bees were heroes? What I meant to say is that they are superheroes!

Now let’s translate this to modern businesses and corporate environments.

In any business, there are people at the top of the hierarchy who provide direction, give orders, and make decisions about which direction the business will take. Those people are like the Queen bees. Yes, they are important to the hive, but they don’t actually do anything.

It is in the lower levels of the hierarchy where you find the workers, from receptionists and janitors to programmers, analysts, cooks, groundskeepers, security guards, and so many other roles that I can’t even think of!

As it is with the hive, so it is with any business. It is the workers who actually get things done. Without workers who take care of all the little things that make a business function, the lofty ideas and visions of upper management will never come to fruition. Honestly, can you imagine Elon Musk pushing a broom or managing a front desk? Ha!

Sadly, for many people these days if you’re not a manager or above, you’re a “nobody.” That is how far we have drifted from the Protestant work ethic, emphasizing the virtues of diligence, discipline, and hard work, and that contributed heavily to the success of our nation and its role as a world leader. Nowadays, people value “influencers,” “thought leaders,” and “trendsetters” over ordinary people who work hard and work well, keeping the wheels of the world turning, day after day.

Personally, I’d rather have an ordinary person, aka a worker bee, at my side any day because when the chips are down, it’s the worker bees who matter infinitely more than any influencer ever will.

Blessed are the worker bees. 🐝

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