The Working Dead: How to De-Zombify Your Business

Is your office being overrun by zombie employees? We'll help you identify them, and stop them dead before they take down your business.
May 27, 2014

When you walk into the office, does it sometimes feel like you've stumbled upon a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies?

Yes, zombies. Whether it's due to stress, deadlines or just the daily grind, the "working dead" can creep into almost any business. A recent poll and report from AtTask—paired with some useful illustrations—sheds some light on this outbreak, and what we can do to stomp out the offensive creatures before they take down our businesses.

Your job as leader? Find the zombies, defend your office and restore normalcy in your business. 

1. The Newly Infected




Some 13 percent of employees scramble to hide their failed projects or other errors in the workplace. You can detect these walkers in that whiff of missing deliverables and from the scratch of floundering status updates at your door. Fight back with real-time project-status tracking—and perhaps a sit-down with the subject to address what's gone wrong (and how to get it back on track).

2. The Shuffler 




A department can fill with Shufflers, especially when you consider that 40 percent of employees said in the poll that they "sometimes" or "often" miss deadlines. You'll recognize the Shuffler by his or her rash of overdue tasks, need for constant reminders and trail of lost requests. Defend your business from Shufflers with request-management tools and at-risk reports. 

3. The Herd 




Fully half the workers that AtTask polled said their departments are understaffed, and that they work more than 40 hours per week. Out of that potentially dangerous realm comes the Herd, marked by never-questioned workloads, blindly accepted requests and diminished results due to all the soul-crushing overdrive they endure. For this workplace zombie, you'll need a system of resource-workload reports, a solid request-intake process—and maybe the occasional gift of an hour at the spa for the most affected.

4. The Crawler 




Some owners and managers don't see this one coming until it's too late. Secretly sucking up a business's resources, the Crawler slips under and around established policies and processes—often simply trying to beat the clock. But subverting your company's best practices is no path to speed or efficiency. Problem is, some 64 percent of employees said they do it. You'll have to increase enforcement to stop the Crawlers from spreading.

5. The Howler 




Marked by the roar of numerous phone calls and emails, often breaking your chain of command in the process, the Howler feeds by attracting undue attention and resources to his or her tasks and issues. You'll only silence Howlers with well-defined request processes and their full cooperation on how communications and resource allotment work. 

6. The Runner 




Never assume that your case of the working dead will remain confined to slow-moving specimens. Sometimes, zombies can run. You'll know your Runners by the sudden onslaught of meeting requests, email queries and impromptu visits they create. This is how they outrun unwanted or unmanageable workloads. To slow the threat, set limits on meetings and enforce policies regarding communications, but also make sure your project statuses are open to all. Runners have a harder time outpacing their responsibilities in the light of day. 

With your guide to the working dead, you can now identify and combat the worst examples in your place of work. But don't forget, the working dead weren't always shuffling, crawling or howling in a herd. It takes one to make one, so stem the tide at its source and you may never have to watch the shadows for workplace zombies again.

Read more articles on leadership.

Photos: iStockphoto, Courtesy AtTask