Leo’s coworkers were obsessed with zodiac signs, constantly discussing astrology, gossiping about other employees and their personalities, flaws, and foibles—the result, in their opinions, of the position of the stars on the day they were born.
When they got around to asking for Leo’s birthday, the Reddit user whose account has since been deleted, wasn’t buying in.
“I told them a fake birthday without even knowing the sign associated with it. It turns out, that, based on this information, I’m a Leo,” Leo—the name Fortune gave the anonymous zodiac scammer—wrote on Reddit about a year ago. “They practically fell all over themselves telling me how much sense that made. ‘You have such a creative spirit!’ or ‘You’re so generous!’ or (my favorite) ‘You’re so VITAL.’”
Leo doesn’t believe in the validity of astrology. More accurately, they said in the Reddit post it’s one of the “dumbest” and most “unscientific” things anyone could believe. Leo said they would quicker give credit to flat Earthers—which may be extreme—but they’re certainly not alone in their dismissal of astrological signs. At the same time, it’s an increasingly prevalent topic of conversation in offices across the country, as people embrace star signs as a way to explain why their computer is on the fritz (is Mercury in retrograde?) or why they will never get along with their boss (Geminis and Scorpios are polar opposites).
Astrology is “not a very scientific way to answer questions,” according to the University of California Museum of Paleontology. It doesn’t meet the criteria for scientific testing, despite dabbling in some scientific knowledge. But that doesn’t stop some 70 million people from reading their horoscopes every day, according to the American Federation of Astrologers.
As the industry has exploded in recent years—revenue for U.S. astrology-based apps grew nearly 65% in 2019 to $40 million and hit $44 million in 2021 before coming back down to earth last year—the use of zodiac signs to explain behaviors, personalities, and the like has clawed deeper into the zeitgeist and everyday conversation. So maybe it’s not surprising it’s leaving a mark on the workplace.
The ripple effect of astrology-obsessed millennials entering middle and upper management roles can’t be overlooked as a factor. According to a 2012 National Science Foundation study, roughly 58% of respondents age 18-24 believe astrology is based in science—and those people are now 29-35 with jobs (at least some of them, probably).
“I thought it would be kind of funny to do this and then reveal to them later that I’m not a Leo at all to see how they reacted and covered for themselves to justify their ongoing belief in magic star influences,” Leo continued.
The lie, however, made its way to their boss, who Leo says believed that being a Leo meant there were certain projects and opportunities at work they’d be perfect for. They started getting more challenging and promising work because of their fake sign; how Leo’s boss viewed them and the impact they had on the company and coworkers changed.
“After a presentation to clients, I was recently told that my Leo spirit was really carrying the team through such a difficult deadline,” Leo wrote. “Now I’m genuinely worried that someone is going to figure out my real birthday.”
Taking it all with a grain of salt
There’s some validity in using astrology and zodiac signs in a work setting, both to determine where someone might excel and what might motivate them, as well as when it comes to building a team, celebrity astrologer Susan Miller tells Fortune.
“Yes in terms of compatibility, astrology can help with that. But you have to be very careful,” Miller says. “We don’t do astrology profiling. You can’t cross out a whole section of the zodiac because you had a bad experience with one person.”
Miller, a 14-time best-selling author who’s garnered something of a cult following since launching her Astrology Zone website, where she’s published horoscopes since 1995, said learning someone’s sign could be useful in a job interview setting, but the problem is too many people are astrology hobbiests. Miller often finds herself defending her industry against the everyday, first-date star-sign reader or the overwhelming number of social media astrologers—not to mention the Leos of the world.
“Whoever’s doing the chart should be certified,” Miller says. There are a number of certifications one can get to make them an accredited astrologer. And even then, Miller acknowledges astrologists don’t know everything. “If I read your chart I wouldn’t know everything about you. I’m going to do my research and follow up, ask for more detail.”
Star signs in the workplace
“You want someone who’s flexible? Then Virgos, Pisces, Geminis, and Sagittarius: They listen and adjust well.”
“A Capricorn wants to be groomed for leadership.”
“If you want someone truly creative, you want a Pisces, but don’t make them come in at 9 a.m.”
“If you’re hiring a Leo, they may not want to take direction.”
“A Taurus is interested in the benefits. They’re slow and so very careful and detailed. If you need someone to look at every comma, every em dash, you couldn’t find a better sign.”
“Scorpios are loyal and quiet. They do very good deep research.”
“A Libra loves the law.”
“Aries is the entrepreneur. They spark fires; they’ll start businesses.”
Miller says she has never incorporated zodiac signs into her hiring practice, but there are companies that have—she obviously sees the appeal. Cat Lincoln has been using “office astrology” at her influencer marketing company CLEVER for years. It’s a way to simply better understand each other, knock down walls, and allow people to be their whole selves at work, the 53-year-old Gemini tells Fortune.
CLEVER isn’t trading in actual astrology, Lincoln says, though the 22-person staff does know each others signs. Astrology is just a part of her management style, that also includes using Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and other personality tests to foster a transparent and safe space in order to better communicate and understand how they work together.
“We don’t make business decisions based on astrology,” Lincoln says. “But it’s humanizing. It’s fun, and it kind of lowers people’s defenses to call it office astrology. It’s definitely a business decision to treat people like people.”
Corporate America has long relied on personality tests—one could argue another pseudo-science—to help with people management. Tests like Myers-Briggs, Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment, Color Code, and the DiSC model are all variations on a workplace staple that seek to pin down employees’ talents, leadership styles, and communication strengths and weaknesses among other things.
Offices are no strangers to the “personality hire” either. Think of personality hires as the “glue guys,” the funny, or simply entertaining coworker who keeps things light with all the charm and charisma often lacking in corporate settings. They can be invaluable to a workplace, as long as they’re not dragging down the work of course.
One could argue there’s room for astrology to nestle in among the rest of these corporate personality assessors meant to motivate employees and cultivate a company culture. But it’s one piece of the puzzle—a starting point—like anything else.
“The best way to use astrology would be to encourage a person’s talents,” Miller says.
No manager wants to end up with a Zodiac scammer like Leo, who put themselves in an uncomfortable position just to fit in.
“I am basically caught up in a lie that’s based on nonsense to begin with and I’m really confused about what to do,” Leo wrote. “I will probably never tell anyone at work this information… Imagine my boss firing me for pretending to be a Leo? That’s SUCH a Pisces thing to do”