The Bronx Zoo is an iconic New York City institution and the largest metropolitan zoo in the United States, situated in the heart of the Bronx with the Bronx River running through it. About 2 million people visit the zoo each year. Along with being home to about 4,000 animals of more than 650 species, the zoo is the workplace of more than 2,000 people, ranging in age from 16 to 91.
Zoo workers described how just being on the grounds of the 265-acre property, amidst animals and greenery, tends to lighten their mood.
“There is no place like the zoo,” said Patricia Berry, 68, who works part-time in human resources. “No matter what mood you’re in, it changes when you are here. People say, ‘Good morning,’ even when they don’t know you.”
Some people work at the zoo for their entire adult lives, and looking at the employee-friendly policies and practices in place there, it’s easy to see why.
Flexibility: Managers at the zoo work hard to allow employees to balance life in and outside of work, accommodating requests for time off by working in teams so someone is always available to fill in.
“We cut breaks, make accommodations, however people need it,” one manager said. “It’s a freaking pain. It’s not easy to manage, but it’s important.”
Job restructuring: Duties are restructured all the time on an as-needed basis because the zoo values institutional knowledge and wants to hold onto longtime employees. More physically capable employees might be called on to do heavy lifting or climbing when it’s necessary, for instance.
Phased retirement: While some employees retire at the traditional age and others, later, Herman Smith, the zoo’s Vice President of Human Resources, will sometimes initiate talks with older workers about scaling down their hours. These conversations are compassionate, and no one is ever forced out of their job.