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.