Are You in a Zombie Workplace?

Okay, it’s a little dramatic but it also brings to light a growing trend in the business world today.
Crashing economies, cutbacks, layoffs, and uncertainty leads people to become less engaged in the workplace.
Last year, I wrote about a Forbes magazine article that quotes a Gallup survey stating that over 70% of U.S. workers are less engaged in the workplace.
If that doesn’t shock you, it should!  If you are a small business owner with employees, it should also scare you.

Your Business is in Danger

Engaged TeamAs a business owner, you are especially vulnerable to the consequences of dis-engaged employees.  Teams grow divisive; managers treat employees badly; employees treat each other and customers badly; office theft goes up; productivity goes down drastically.
These people come and they go, they do the 9 to 5, they grow through the motions and do the minimum work to get by, and are not fully engaged.
Everyone loses.
LEADERS are to blame.
Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership -John Maxwell

Six Rules of Engagement

If you are a leader in your environment, here’s some things you can do to fix that and help prevent the zombification of yourself or your employees.
  • KNOW YOUR SELF – Too many times, people don’t realize THEY are the problem.  You have probably worked for a leader who blames lazy employees, ethnic, racial, or generational cultures, bad economies, and a myriad of other reasons for why things aren’t going well.  If you are a leader and your people aren’t following, YOU are the problem.  Fix it.
  • GROW YOUR SELF – This is how you fix it.  You can’t change them, you cannot change things like the economy or anything else beyond your control.  What you can do is change YOU.  Learn to become more optimistic, learn to develop the characteristics that you are seeking in employees.  When I was a manager, I used to brag about how I made a point of hiring people better and smarter than me.  That was so wrong.  I couldn’t possibly do it.  You attract what you are, not what you wish.  If YOU grow, you’ll find yourself getting the kind of people you desire.
  • KNOW YOUR PEOPLE– Connect with them.  It’s through relationships that people build trust, respect, and more like they are a part of things when they feel connected with you.  When you can answer the three questions everyone asks in virtually ANY kind of relationship, then you can connect and influence them and they will become engaged.  The three questions you must answer are:
    • Do you CARE for ME?
    • Can you HELP ME?
    • Can I TRUST YOU?
  • FOCUS ON THE STRENGTHS – Yours and the people you work with.  Focus on how you can best use the strengths they have to compensate for your weaknesses and help accomplish the company’s goals.  That’s what a TEAM is all about.
  • REWARD THE BEHAVIORS YOU WANT – Not a lot of people do this.  They spend more time rewarding they don’t like, but you want to spend time rewarding the behaviors you desire.  Empower people, trust people, encourage people to accomplish the things you want them to do.
  • TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION – when necessary; which is not the same as impulsive action.  Don’t react impulsively, take the time to think about the appropriate response and then take the action now.  People will respect you more for taking considered, decisive  immediate action than if you hem and haw or you are impulsive.

What are some ways you have seen organizations engage their employees?

Beware Your Workplace Zombies!

disengaged employees are becoming zombies in the workplace

Are you worried?  Even if you don’t believe in Zombies (and I don’t) you should be worried.  A Forbes Magazine article ( released this week summarizes a Gallup survey recently conducted that found that 70% of US workers are “disengaged” from their employment. In other words, they have become mindless zombies at work, going through the motions of their jobs.  Now the poll defines engagement as being actively involved with the company goals and vision, feeling passionate about what they do, and working to innovate and improve the company.  I would add working to improve the company bottom line as well.  So by contrast disengaged means that they are simply doing the minimum; showing up, doing what is required and nothing more, not applying any creative thought.  And the extreme is worse; they are UNHAPPY in their job and more than likely exhibiting that in a variety of ways, including a reduction in productivity.  They estimate that this is costing us collectively HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS through lost revenue and lost productivity.  The real concern is that the trend seems to be growing instead of shrinking.  And it is not relegated to simply large corporations.

Cure for Zombie Nation

The good news is that there is HOPE!  There is a CURE FOR ZOMBIFICATION!  And it begins with the LEADERSHIP of the organization; whether the executive level of a large corporation or the owner of a small business.  You can re-engage your employees and turn this around.  The secret lies in FIRE.  No, not firing them all and hiring someone else; you are simply getting rid of a known in favor of an unknown; not to mention the expense involved in recruiting and hiring a new employee.  It also doesn’t lie in lighting a fire under them.  Threats and intimidation has proven time and again to be highly ineffective in both the short and long-term in today’s workplace.  In fact, I don’t think it was ever truly an effective tool.  The real solution lies in LIGHTING A FIRE IN THEM!  The employee who finds their own motivation and passion will awake from their zombie slumber, re-engage, seek performance excellence, improve their productivity, and as a result positively impact YOUR BOTTOM LINE. In fact, the Gallup poll strongly suggests that the highly engaged employee leads to the kind of growth you desire for your organization.  But you cannot provide this motivation, it has to come from within the person.  All you can do is provide the environment in which an employee can find that motivation.  Employees find motivation and passion when the feel hope; hope for their future, hope for the future of the organization.  If you can provide that, you will begin curing the zombification process.

Administering the Cure

So how do we get there?  Here’s a some things to consider that have been proven over time in many situations to provide the right environment for employee engagement.


For too many managers and business owners, the extent of their communication with their staff consists of mumbled good mornings and “how are sales today?”  Employees respond to open communication; this is especially true if you employ GenX and GenY people.  You need to do more than just acknowledge their presence, you need to acknowledge their impact….to them directly and also indirectly by going public with it.  You need to communicate your vision to them.  How can they have hope in their future and the organization’s future if they don’t know where it is you want to go with it?

They also need to know that the door is open for two-way communication.  They need to have confidence in the knowledge that their opinion and input is valued.  They need to know they have room to make mistakes and to take responsibility for those mistakes and learn from them.

Mostly, they need to hear that they matter to you and the organization.  If your attitude is that employees are a dime a dozen, be prepared to set aside those dimes because it will be all you will be able to pay because it is all you will have left.


Confidence in open communication occurs when you have made a connection to your employees.  When you take the time to talk with them, learn about them and their situations and their hopes and dreams, then you are able to connect with them and build that confidence in a relationship.  Building that relationship does not necessarily mean going out for beers together, but it does mean recognizing that there is, beyond all the titles and roles, a person there who feels things just as personally as you do.  You are invested personally in what you do which is why YOU are productive; how is that any less for your employees?

Focus on Strengths

This was mentioned in the article but has been a mantra of mine for some time.  In job interviews and performance evaluations, the topic of strengths and weaknesses is brought up and then never addressed again.  In the evaluation, we identify what we think their weakness is and then tell them to work on it.  STOP!  If you make an employee focus on their weaknesses you are creating two negative situations; one is that you have placed focus on their deficiencies instead of on where they make a positive impact and the other is they will ignore bolstering their strengths to focus on improving their weaknesses.  Where are they the most productive for you, in their strengths or in their weaknesses?  And let’s say they do work on their weakness, by how much?  At best, they move from poor to mediocre.  Meanwhile, their strengths are not improving and their productivity is lower and they are unhappy because they are not in their sweet spot.  Find ways to increase their strengths and team them with others (inside or outside) to overcome their weaknesses.

Reward the Behaviors You Desire

Too often, we only focus on employees when something is wrong.  So we emphasize the wrong behaviors because that is the only time anyone pays attention.  It’s the same with your kids; if the only way a child gets attention is when they do something wrong (and they CRAVE attention) what do you think they are going to choose to do?  You can’t ignore bad behaviors, but you can minimize the attention spent on them and spend more time focusing on the positive impacts.  Spend time EVERY DAY catching them doing right.

Immediate Action

This is especially a challenge for small business owners but I have found it is often a challenge for corporate management as well.  The time to act is now.  Go to your calendar and open up some time to casually sit and talk with your employees one-on-one.  Not in your office, but in a breakroom or on a bench somewhere or take them to a coffee house.  Talk about where they feel they are most effective and ask them how you can help them be more effective.  Assure them that they have value.  Do it today, because the longer you wait the less likely you are to do it.  What you don’t want to do is look back and say, “I shoulda…”

Make YOUR day more productive by applying the zombie cure.