WORK-LIFE BALANCE / JUN. 03, 2014
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A Study: Amazonian Tribe Lifestyle VS Modern Offices

This article aims to examine the different contrasts of working lifestyles when comparing an Amazonian tribe living in the basin, to what is conceived to be ‘normal’ office culture. Based on my own journal written when visiting the Huaorani tribe within the Ecuadorian side of the Amazon rainforest; the following study examines the three aspects of - Hierarchy: Employees VS Elders; Physical Environment: Office VS Nature; and Culture: Business Values VS Tribal Values. Taken directly from a personal journal, used to assess sociological impacts of normal office life, with that of a culture which could be described as ‘lost in time’ and ‘unaffected by evolution’.

Hierarchy: Employees VS Elders

Employees: Every job I have had, was structured using an internal hierarchical formation, this proves valuable as a communication, decision-making and workplace relationships tool. However, just as there is no single organisational design that works for every business, there is also no single preferred workplace hierarchy, only a guideline stencil which management usually follow. Hierarchy chains can aid management structures between departments all geared to meeting a company’s long-term goal. Each employee understands their role, the position they are in within the hierarchy ladder and what is expected of them.

Elders: Waking up on my first morning with the tribe, I had already been immediately presented with a hierarchy chain, composed only of men. They each had a role in the group based on physical strength and agility, which I later found was proven only when bringing back various animals such as wild boar, tapir and monkeys. A performance review of the truly indigenous kind; five senior men stood in a circle in what appeared to be a managed discussion where points to move forward were discussed. Each found their role through physical appearance. The method adopted was extremely traditional, the men built and hunted, the woman cooked and nurtured the injured. Still arguable, that they had a very natural way about their life, the roles (rather chosen than gained through advancement) seemed somewhat preferred and selected by each member of the group. An organised design whereby each person chooses their status and role, unless otherwise proven by the things they do. A tried and tested method to determine order and efficiency, when considering hierarchy development.

Physical Environment: Office VS Nature

Office: Within my current and previous working environments, it is common to find layouts designed by companies with a view to present technology and hardware. Different manmade appliances promote modern technology and working utensils. The look and feel of a modern office is a significant reflection of workplace culture, in comparison with the tools and resources provided by nature.

Nature: I couldn’t help thinking how different it was to be amongst people performing their daily tasks in a natural environment free of the normal technology. The place where we work, the “norm” we have grown accustomed to, is so far from other civilisations such as the Huaorani. Spears replace keyboards, tomahawks substituted fax machines and leaves/plants replaced business attire. This comparison regarding old and new, isn’t just a work life comparison, this felt like another world.

Culture: Business Values VS Tribal Values

Business value: Within my previous and current jobs, I found the values of business are often formulated with an official statement of values, this is found to be shared between both employees and clients. Value statements mention traits like honesty, hard work, safety and integrity. The companies I worked for all had these labeled, defined and communicated either on a website or in training, or in some cases included within email signatures. They help decide what is most important to the business and communicate this where possible as best they can.

Tribal culture: Honesty, hard work, safety and integrity are also some of the traits found with the Huaorani, amongst many other traditional values. Seen mainly in the way the tribe’s people treat each other; this was not engraved into trees as with other symbols of significance, it was administered between each other, respect and a consideration for wellbeing. The values within the tribe’s etiquette and the way they treat members of the group were more personal and physical. When a formation such as this exists, it manifests into a tradition which is in no way written or archived, but simply reminded when living together each day.

Despite the extreme difference between these two worlds, there are striking similarities that exist in principal with regards to sociological impacts, whether in a tribe or office.

I will leave you with an extract from my journal written during my work experience with the tribe…

"Walking towards me was a small stalky tribesman; his genes brought with them raised cheekbones and long hair as he carried 2 fingers and 1 thumb on his left hand. Now side by side I asked if he was going to be my guide, without looking at me his chin held high as he stared straight forward; Penti proved later to be my protector"

Check out my video for a closer look at what life is like living with a real Amazonian tribe!

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