Copyright TIGERS Success Series

By Dianne Crampton

To answer this question, you need to look no farther than “actively” disengaged employees who are skulking around you workforce waiting for the opportunity to move elsewhere. Much like the zombie portrayed in horror films, these employees moan, groan, and seek out other employees with the intention of devouring their initiative. They crush morale, suck creativity, and corner unwitting colleagues with ravings of discontent.

What brought the above scenario to mind was a conversation I recently overheard during a layover at an airport. A senior employee was coaching a teammate about a client they were calling on the next morning when they reached their destination.

Over the course of dinner and a few glasses of wine, the senior employee transitioned from coaching to become progressively louder and surlier. He was dissatisfied with his company’s travel policies and how these policies infringed on his personal boundaries and family time. He made it quite clear that he rarely puts his full effort in on a day following travel that occurs on a Sunday evening  that takes him away from his children and spouse. This is especially for travel that could have occurred on a Monday morning.

What if I were a potential client?

 By this time, everyone around the two could hear the disgruntled worker’s conversation. He openly broadcasted the company’s name and was oblivious to anyone within ear shot. The other employee was nervous and glanced at me a couple of times. What if I had been a stock investor, competitor or a potential client?

Instead, I found this conversation fascinating because the senior team leader poisoned the newer team member with the following advice:

  • Don’t give the company your all
  • Don’t show up, answer e-mail, or communicate with your company when your own time has been compromised
  • Don’t expect me to be readily available the day after we return from travel

In our January 28 posting entitled Employers Must Take Responsibility For Employee Engagement, I reported on a Gallup Poll that identified the high number of employees who are beyond being disengaged to actively sharing there discontent with fellow employees. This results in disengaging other employees and provides clues on the severity of active discontent and how it spreads from one employee to another. It is also an enterprise-wide risk management issue that should not be taken lightly.

Another example of disengagement comes from former employees who move on to greener pastures, but still bear a grudge and carry a hatchet. They are willing to share stories of their work experience including whether there were opportunities for advancement at a time when attracting talented new employees is important.  They share their stories with friends, family and in networking conversations. This means their potential reach is global.

Here is an example of another recent conversation:

“In my former employment with __________, we experienced a lot of change through reorganization. Agents used to be independent contractors, but the company “terminated” our contracts and rehired us back as employees. In theory, they probably thought this would enhance the team atmosphere, but the opposite happened. Of course, the change led to many high performing sales people who operated their own successful profit centers like me quitting, which added to increased workloads for those who were left. Besides, opportunity for advancement in this company that could have restored the level of autonomy we experienced in staffing our profit centers wasn’t possible. Nepotism for management positions was the norm there. If you weren’t a family member or an in law, you were out of luck so I left because it was a dead end.”

So what are the key issues this former sales associate communicated?

  • High turnover of skilled associates means less skilled employees are overworked and the company is in reactive mode
  • Nepotism rules not fairness
  • If you are talented and think this company is a good choice, you will dead end your career

So how do organizations put the walking dead to rest when some employees pick up the hatchet after they leave?

One solution is to engage employees in a change initiative that results in employees championing change that makes work more satisfying and less disengaging.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Engage employees in identifying and eliminating morale damaging practices before attempting to implement new practices.
  • Understand that if you want employees to care about the organization, the organization must demonstrate that it cares about them.
  • Communicate continuously so employees understand how their work benefits organizational goals, what impact they made once a goal was reached and how this advances the success of the company. Don’t keep employees in the dark. Zombies thrive in the dark!
  • Build employee consensus before implementing change that affects them.
  • Let employees know how they are doing through performance reviews, recognition programs, and coaching.
  • Address slacking off and bad behavior immediately. What you become aware of is frequently only a symptom of much darker discontent.

The good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for a team environment that nurtures highly productive and cooperative employees. The key is understanding what caused employee discontent, empowering employees to champion change that improves what they are dissatisfied with, and correcting systems and strategies that created hatchet waving zombie issues in the first place.

Image credit: iStock