Employee disengagement: zombies at work


unhappy female worker With Halloween looming, it is that time of year for Zombies, but apparently not just the fake ones. Have you ever considered that at work there may be “walking dead” amongst us that we don’t even notice? David Zinger recently blogged about “Employee Engagement: Is Employee Disengagement a Form of Death?” and while I think his idea certainly grabs our attention and points to the seriousness of the issue for organizations, it ignores employees who are still “alive” – albeit barely. Zombies don’t know that they are dead so how would an employee know if they’re near gone or a lost cause?

As a manager, I wonder how we can identify a soon-to-be-corpse or indeed recognize when we ourselves have become one (maybe we’re on life support right now!). That kind of awareness is important to avoid the walking dead syndrome at work.

Consider these signs of employee disengagement:

  • You watch the clock
  • You count the hours and days until you can “retire”
  • You consider Monday as the worst day of the week
  • You hide from any extra work assignments
  • You have given up on making things better
  • You rejoice at an excuse to call in sick
  • You don’t like your manager and avoid contact
  • You lack confidence in management
  • You feel unappreciated
  • You get “no respect”
  • You arrive late for work
  • You get distracted by your pet interests and don’t complete assigned work on time
  • You procrastinate a lot
  • You believe that there is no fun at work

Managers should know how to stop contributing to the “death” of their employees. They need to consider: How do I handle their complaints? How do I recognize their contributions? Do I nurture them? After all, if managers don’t appreciate that an employee who complains is still “alive” and cares enough to speak up, then they aren’t helping to stop employee death in its tracks.

Here are a few suggestions for managers to re-engage their undead employees:

  • Recognize and acknowledge the employee who quietly hits all of their targets every year. Say “thank you”.
  • Enquire with genuine interest and concern when the employee is withdrawing from appropriate opportunities.
  • Communicate confidence in and respect for the employee in small every day ways.
  • Give the employee an opportunity to grow through job enrichment.

Our own engagement can be nurtured both by managers and by us as individuals. Let’s prevent the walking dead and deal respectfully with ourselves and others when we recognize the signs.  Every person in an organization has dignity and the potential for rebirth. Take time to consider whether you ever felt that you were just going through the motions at work and hoping that no one would find out. Perhaps you have too much on your plate? Perhaps you are bored, or have a manager you don’t like or respect? Remember: Don’t let these feelings persist. They create a negative emotional state and are bad for your health, as well as the organization. Develop a plan to rejuvenate your career, your relationships, and your life.


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