Melissa Lanier is Director of Talent Development at GES...

In films and on TV, Zombies are angry, mindless creatures driven to meet only their most basic need.  Some organizations are populated with poor suffering souls who are miserable at work and only there to collect their pay.  Fewer than 1 in 3 employees worldwide are actively engaged according to the BlessingWhite 2011 Global Employee Engagement Report.  Be concerned!  Zombies can be anywhere.  This Halloween, a zombie apocalypse may be happening right now, in your office.

Here’s how you can tell:

1. Customer service is terrible- Zombies provide legendarily BAD service to customers. They are not there to solve problems, certainly aren’t polite and never make eye contact. They may, however, view the customer opening their wallet as an opportunity to spread their virus to others. Discontent is catching. Yummy!

2. There is a high rate of on the job injuries- Zombies are actively decomposing.  They may leave behind a limb at the water cooler or copy machine. Their brain is decomposing as well and they only focus on their next meal.  Safety policies and procedures are not their concern.

3. People don’t trust leaders or each other- Zombies have a hard time being vulnerable and limited vocabulary.  Mainly, they say “braaiinns.” So they can’t admit mistakes or ask for help.  Also, it is impossible to work as a team when you view coworkers as your next meal. How can you trust your leader when you just saw her try to rip off the head of the administrative assistant?

4. There is no innovation- Zombies show up to work with the disadvantage of being able to access only a small part of their brain. They are completely self-absorbed.  They don’t want or need autonomy. They have lost the capacity to solve problems.  They will just moan and mill around aimlessly until it is time to eat.

5. There is high attrition- Zombies do not see a career path in your organization. They arrive at work prepared to do the minimum (something they already know how to do)! Personal development is irrelevant because Zombies are only at your organization temporarily. If you are lucky, you will see them join another zombie horde and stagger off.

Zombies aren’t there to make a difference.  They don’t care about your vision or strategy. They are not interested in what a “good job” looks like.  They are doing just what they have to do to survive.

So do you gather the family, raid an arsenal, load up the truck and find a safe house?  Maybe in the movies…

While the idea of zombies in corporate America is a bit of comedy, the issue of disengaged employees isn’t all that funny.  In real organizations, disengaged employees show up at the office to collect their paychecks. They don’t like what they do, they don’t want to go “above and beyond” and they don’t want to stay.  As leaders, we have to reach out to disengaged employees, the Working Dead.  Leaders must either help unhappy and unproductive people to get engaged or share them with the competition (a great phrase I first heard used by Garry Ridge).

At GES, we work every day to keep incredible employees actively engaged. Why? High levels of employee engagement yield serious business benefits.

Here are just a few:

  • “Disengaged employees are 9 times more likely to leave an organization than actively engaged employees,” said the Corporate Leadership Council.
  • “Highly engaged workers are 26% more productive than disengaged workers,” explained Towers Watson.
  • “Highly engaged employees take 20% fewer sick days than disengaged employees,” stated Towers Watson.

Paul L. Marciano provides these great statistics in his book: Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT.

What can you do to breathe life back into your Working Dead?

Here are five ideas to get you started:

  • Talk about their passions and talents- Then look for opportunities to assign work that aligns to your bottom line.
  • Say “thank-you”- Do not underestimate the power of genuine appreciation and specific recognition.
  • Help people build their skills- Ask where they would like to take their career and find opportunities, like cross training or mentoring, to help them get there.
  • Be available- They can’t be engaged if you never interact. Hands-on management never goes out of style.
  • Don’t give up on engagement because you can’t increase pay- Many factors like trust, recognition, autonomy and team spirit form engagement.  Pay plays a role, but isn’t the most important for all individuals.

If you want to learn more about employee engagement and retention, here are some great books:

Happy Halloween!

Do you have tricks (or treats) for building employee engagement?” Share them below!