The Working Dead

There is one given fact about zombies: they spread fast, they are contagious and they can ruin anything that comes their way. One of the most popular trends in movies and tv series is steadily becoming a reality for the corporate place. It is not that difficult to identify a worker zombie. They move slow, sigh way more often than usual and are mentally absent from work. They probably hold an indifferent state when it comes to work and are more likely to perform tasks with the sole purpose of receiving their pay check. Surprisingly enough, corporate zombies are overly focused on reaching higher levels in the corporate hierarchy while at the same time restrain themselves from any type of creativity or innovation.

As we all know from popular movies, zombies are the result of a virus or an infection. When it comes to corporate zombies, it seems that there is a positive correlation between corporate culture and the rise of employee zombies. A concept that is closely related to the phenomenon of “employee zombie” is employee engagement that refers to the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the work-employee relationship. According to Gallup[1], one major drawback when researching a workplace is that job metrics do not measure the quality of people’s jobs. In fact, people who have a job that is not satisfying are more likely to rate their lives as equally bad, overall. The degree of employee engagement is defined by distinctive characteristics:

Employees who are highly engaged are enthusiastic about their work, take initiative and go the extra mile. They exhibit a high degree of self-awareness and will often respond to a problem with a solution. Their emotional intelligence allows them to treat new tasks as a challenge for further development instead of a burden. They are team players since they do not regard themselves as experts in all fields. Since they enjoy working together with other people, they are capable of developing a social network that leverages themselves and their work.

Somewhere near the highly engaged employee, you may spot an employee zombie. Often enough, zombie employees go unnoticed yet there are specific signs to watch out:

They lie: Employee zombies may not be aware they are infected. That’s the reason they lie about missed deadlines or unfinished business. Although, they go through the motions they are very good of covering it up.

Constant project shift: As their enthusiasm goes down the drain, they try to respond to increased workload by moving from one project to another during the day. Due to this project rollercoaster, they are less productive due to inefficient time management and high levels of stress.

Avoid working as a team member: It is a mistake to believe that when an employee avoids team work is because they are capable of doing the job on their own. Team work reflects the corporate culture and plays a significant part in maximizing results and profits.

Constant complain and lack of initiative: You will always hear the employee zombie complaining about the work environment, their CEO, a customer, even you. At the same time, they will never act proactively. They come to work, complete a given task and wait for their shift to end. Working as a robot is a profound characteristic of employee disengagement.

As you may have realized, an employee zombie does not differ much from anyone who may experience emotional disengagement in their everyday life as well. HR managers are steadily shifting towards a new design of the corporate workplace. If you want to “cure” zombies at your company make sure you reinforce open communication and appreciation of effort and accomplishment on a regular basis.

Sophia Vassiliades, M.A. Clininal Psychologist/Counselor.