Attack of the office 'zombie'

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Watch out, zombies are invaded your workplace! No, not the brain-munching un-dead, but unproductive, morale-destroying workers that have been labelled ‘zombie hires’ by a US employment agency.

According to creative staffing firm Vitamin T, ‘zombie hires’, also playfully known as ‘the Working Dead’, are people deemed to have a negative effect on fellow team members and businesses. Whether that’s from being an actively negative presence in the workplace – for example, missing meetings or deadlines and leaving others to carry the load – or, more likely behaviour for zombies, having an inactive presence; i.e. they are at work in body but not in mind, for example, not contributing ideas in meetings or discussions, or simply not talking to anyone at all.

Having a zombie in your midst is not good for anyone whether you’re a worker, manager or small business owner (zombies can be particularly lethal for small businesses if left alone to deal with clients). Vitamin T’s research suggests that American firms could lose up to $51,000 through hiring a zombie worker - a combination of salary and benefits paid, time wasted on hiring someone new and also counting the cost of the negative effect the zombie may have had on other workers, or customers that have been scared away.

So what do you do if your office is under attack from zombies (stop hiding under the desk for a start)? And, perhaps more pertinently, what do you do if you think you are a zombie worker?

We spoke to former Stylist columnist Lisa Merrick-Lawless, founder and managing director of creative therapy centre, Headspace, for some tips and advice…

How to cope with a zombie worker

While Vitamin T suggest a cut ‘em loose strategy, Lisa takes a more gentle approach...

1. Listen to their complaints and make them feel heard. Sometimes people just need to vent and they need to be listened to properly. Do this by actively listening rather than giving feedback or trying to solve the problem. Ask questions to clarify what they are unhappy about and ask if they would like you to help them. It may be that their negativity is legitimate.

2. Protect yourself and your team from the negativity. There comes a point when you need to look after and protect yourself (and maybe even your team). Do this by making it clear that you don’t want to engage in negative complaining. Don’t encourage it or agree with any of the points being made just remain neutral and excuse yourself.

3. Help them find a way through - or out. Quite often people who are in this negative place feel stuck and they are often in the wrong job or even career. They may not be aware of what they are doing and the effect it has on others. Help them get constructive feedback from the right person (this could be you, their manager or HR). This can be enough to help them to a more positive place (or help them reassess where they are at and do something about it).

What to do if you're a zombie worker

It’s easy to paint zombie workers as the baddies, but if you feel nothing but negativity at work, Lisa says understanding how and why you are that way is the key to getting out of a zombie rut...

1. Understand why you are in this place. Ask yourself why you feel this way. Be really honest and dig deep to uncover the true answer. It may be that you are unhappy outside work and this is spilling over into your work life, or that you are having difficulty with a colleague or manager, or simply that you are in the wrong job or career.

2. Take responsibility for it. The first step for dealing with any difficult situation is to recognise that you created it and you have a choice about what you do about it – this gives you power and control. Shift your language from ‘why’ to ‘how’ to enable yourself to take responsibility, so instead of saying ‘why is my manager so difficult?’ or ‘why do I find my job so impossible?’ move to ‘how have I managed to create this relationship with my manager?’ or ‘how have I not managed to make this job easy yet?’

3. Get a plan. Get some help. This can simply be communicating honestly with your manager or HR about how unhappy you are or seeking professional help with a coach or therapist who will help you understand your choices and possible solutions. Try on different scenarios and see which makes sense or makes you feel differently about your situation. Spend a week pretending you have resigned – how does this feel? Then spend a week pretending you have moved to a different department or company. Keep playing around with different scenarios until you know what the answer is. Trust yourself. We often know really deep down on an unconscious level what the solution is. Now have the confidence to follow through and do something about it!

To find out more about Headspace and the services the team offer, visit or follow Lisa Merrick-Lawless on Twitter @lisasheadspace

What do you think? Are there zombie hires attacking your workplace? Or do you have an tips or advice for getting out of a work rut? Tell us your thoughts on Twitter @StylistMagazine or in the comments section below

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Images: Rex