What bees can teach us about the business life cycle.

beehive explained

The beehive analogy

The beehive provides a helpful analogy from which to explore the challenge many business leaders and organisations are facing; surviving the now, whilst protecting the org for what’s to come in the future.

In a beehive there is an organisational structure that is surprisingly similar to modern businesses.

  • Queen Bee = The CEO.
  • Drone Bees, responsible for mating with the Queen and growing the colony = Business Development.


Then there are the ‘Worker Bees ‘who do everything else. They are a like corporate services and they are split into departments each with their own roles and responsibilities.

  • Cleaners – responsible for the health of the hive and the bees = HR
  • Nurse bees – take care of the larvae and help develop them = L&D
  • Queen’s caretakers = The PAs or EAs
  • Honeycomb builders = IT
  • Honey producers = Operations
  • Pollen collectors = Procurement
  • Guard bees = Finance


Collectively, the colony works to ensure that it can both survive and thrive in the long-term, and every bee has a responsibility to contribute to that.

Colony wellbeing and productivity

There are many things that threaten the survival and flourishing of a bee colony, the most common of which is when bees become unwell through sickness, or an infestation. This is the same as in business; as employees become sicker and weaker, they become less able to perform and present a risk to the organization. The more employees afflicted with low wellbeing, the greater the risk. Unfortunately, there is considerable evidence that shows us that the wellbeing of the working population is in decline.

Research indicates a plethora of factors that are causing this, but Lawrence H. Summers, president emeritus of Harvard University summarises it simply and brilliantly;

 “We’re working unsustainably hard”.

Many indicators suggest he is right. In 2022, productivity per employee dropped to the lowest rate since 1947, that was 2-years after the end of the Second World War in which 85 million people perished. This represented over 4% of the global population.

We are now experiencing a productivity paradox. According to recent data from the OECD, we are employing more people, and working more hours, but our outputs are in decline or, at best, stagnating. More hours and more employees are not resulting in greater productivity or greater thriving. Instead, like the bees, our success is threatened by an affliction. That affliction is an increasingly stressful and time-consuming way of working.

Have we reached an inflection point in human sustainability?

Could it be that within the confines of our current ways of working, we have surpassed the maturity phase and are now in the decline phase of the universal business lifecycle?

The long-term implications of this are both significant and already beginning to show, so what do we need to do about it?

Leadership Burnout

Studies continue to show that 50-60% of leaders are at risk of burnout. One of the reasons for this, is that they are leading an increasingly unwell workforce that is either incapable or unwilling to deliver results.

In a beehive, the role of the Queen is to determine the general ‘mood’ of the hive by emitting a pheromone that affirms to the colony that all is well. If ever her scent dries up, the colony becomes tense and springs into action to raise a new Queen. Cultivating a new Queen takes time, and in that time, the hive is distressed, weaker, less productive, and tense.

It’s the same as when we see a leader slide towards ultimate burnout. They increasingly make poor choices, miss opportunities, and become less confident, and this leads to lower employee engagement and morale. Unlike in bees, where the lost scent signal is felt almost immediately, the early warning signs of burnout are much harder to detect.

I discussed this in detail in my previous article.


Bees abscond if their hive is unacceptable due to a lack of resources, pests, frequent disturbances, or other reasons. Exactly like employees who leave their organisation due to a lack of resources, constant change, disruption, poor leadership, or some other sort of perceived or real threat to their wellbeing and chances of success. Recently we have seen the extreme of this through the Great Resignation. Many organizations are currently plagued by the volume of voluntary turnover they are experiencing.

Another reason that bees abscond a hive is because they’ve simply not been able to settle into it. Similarly, I was speaking to one of the ‘Big 4’ consulting firms recently who told me that in one industry they are losing 68% of their frontline employees within 6-months of them joining.


Lesson from the bees

So, what can we learn from the bees?

Prevention first! Bees collect antimicrobial plant resins that defend the colony from pathogens. This is exactly what business now needs to be doing. Instead, most workplace wellbeing strategies are about dealing with employees after their wellbeing has declined. Tactics such as mental health counselling or initiatives that tackle disengagement, smoking, obesity, or sleep issues. None of this gets to the root cause, none of this prevents the wellbeing declining in the first place, it’s all very reactive. Our current approach is also piecemeal, dealing with each symptom independently. Whereas the bees take a holistic approach that gives them not only protection against bacteria, but also fungus and viruses too.

Protecting the health and wellbeing of the colony is built into the continuous and ongoing strategy for bee success, this is now a priority for many organizations, as the risks of an ‘unwell’ workforce pose a heavy and unsustainable burden, that can no longer be solved by cracking the whip harder.

The WellWise system is designed to enable organisations to identify their wellbeing risks and their causes, and develop sustainable strategies and solutions for overcoming them. Drop me a note if this is of interest.


Closing thought

Bees are the lifeblood of our planet, essential to maintaining sources of food. Yet, their wellbeing is in decline thus threatening their and our survival alike.

Could this be another bee-business analogy warning signal we need to be paying more attention to?

It certainly couldn’t do any harm.

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