Zombie Employees: More than a Halloween horror

Typified by a spectral pallor, a perpetual slouch, and the most lifeless eyes that could make anyone who look into them feel uncommonly suicidal, these hideous creatures trudge around like walking pits of emptiness without purpose or plan. They are zombies, but not your average kind. They don’t just emerge on the last day of October; they don’t feast on human brains; and their clothes are far from raggedy or bloodied. No, this discreet species exist in close proximity to us every day from nine to five, decked in sterile office wear. Say hello to The Working Dead.


Featured Image: GreatBasin


Most likely the last to arrive and the first to leave, these office revenants are just going through the motions, isolating themselves even from colleagues. While their bodies waste away in a suffocating cubicle, their minds float to a distant land. And they tolerate this meaningless existence at work only for the juicy cheque that comes every month. In short, they don’t care. The one thing they’re committed to is doing the bare minimum each day.


Don’t be surprised to find a few zombies lurking in the higher levels of management as well. This syndrome is more prevalent than you’d think. According to Gallup, 70 per cent of the workforce in America is disengaged from their jobs. In Singapore alone, zombie workers haunt 57 per cent of local companies, as studies by recruitment agency Robert Half show, with twice the chance for medium to larger-sized firms, as opposed to smaller SMEs.



Image: Glassdoor


Even though, unlike actual zombies, they don’t pose any life-threatening concern, these fellas can nevertheless be equally as dangerous for your company. An unconducive work environment and a flawed company culture can crush the potential of a promising young executive, drying up every drop of enthusiasm, and lead to heaps of wasted talent. When this happens, it becomes a chain reaction – one zombie infects the rest. But the true horror of horrors, especially for businesses, is all the capital that goes down the drain. Gallup, to be more specific, calculated a maximum annual estimate of US$550 billion squandered by the US on these detached staffers.


Before you can put a stopper on losing money, the first priority of bringing the undead back to life must be addressed. As you may already know, this conundrum isn’t new, and many have attempted a diversity of methods to fix it. But given that not much has changed, and companies are still wasting gobs of cash, effort, and time, perhaps a fresh approach is paramount. Instead of focusing on engagement strategies, think about what’s causing folks to check out at work, and how best to avoid it from the get-go. Custom Insight discovered a crucial element that differentiates between the propellers of workplace engagement and disengagement – the employee’s personal relationship with their supervisor. Employee engagement techniques tend to focus on fostering positive relationships and perceptions of the company and its head honchos, which works to drive engagement. However, when it comes to the drivers of disengagement, Custom Insight found a larger emphasis on negative relationships with one’s direct manager.

Image: 34strong


One of the most effective ways to convert the disengaged, or at least lower the levels of disengagement, is by strengthening your relationship with the staff members you are directly in charge of. Take genuine interest in not only their lives at work, but also their lives outside of it. Arrange regular one-on-one sessions, and get to know their interests, their motivations, and their goals. The more trust you build with your employees, the more likely they’ll be honest and open with you about workplace concerns. Once they’ve voiced them out, waste no time in coming up with solutions. Ignoring feedback can actually worsen the situation. Of course, while you’re taking down their concerns, don’t forget to do likewise, and provide feedback from your end. A 2009 study by Gallup indicated that supervisors who do not issue employee reviews, or do so minimally, fail to engage a stunning 98 per cent of their staff. Even negative feedback is better than nothing at all. It, in fact, has 20 times the chance of engaging employees, as opposed to radio silence.


As for employee recognition and rewards, why not demonstrate them in more tangible ways? An example is promoting high-performing workers – something that only 21 per cent of Singaporean employers carry out. The same survey, involving 150 CFOs and finance directors in Singapore, revealed less than half the corporations ensured the job was a good fit for the specific employee in the first place. This means the employer might be more interested in getting the job done, rather than the person who is doing the job. At the same time, only 35 per cent of bosses cater to the worker’s personal development and training.



Image: ImgIX


While we were going on and on about strategies for employers, you, dear reader, might have even realised that you too have joined the ranks of the undead. Well, everything starts with awareness, which equates to half the battle. The next part is taking, or rather, wanting to take active steps to de-zombify yourself. As easy as it is to simply leave it to the higher-ups to address the situation, more imperative is the need for you to hold yourself accountable. If your work life feels devoid of meaning, it might be time to re-evaluate your choice of career, and personal goals. What originally made you accept this job? What pumps you up, and gets you out of bed these days? Does your current line of work even excite you anymore? Let’s say you’ve decided on a career shift. If it’s something that you can still contribute to your company, talk to your superiors. You might be able to jump departments. In another scenario, you’re still interested in your job, except the tasks you’re given aren’t challenging enough. Again, highlighting your expectations will do the trick. Unfortunately, inclinations towards less corporate occupations, or a completely different field can only end in resignation. For personal issues that go way beyond workplace dissatisfaction – like an attitude problem that isn’t caused by the job – here are a few tips: Count your blessings, speak affirmations into existence, stop thinking of yourself as a victim, and push away that defeatist mindset.


Save the zombie act for Halloween, and good luck reviving your lethargic bunch!


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