5 Ways to Avoid a Workplace Zombie Apocalypse

October 10, 2012 Darcy Jacobsen

Disengagement.  Just the word is enough to strike terror into the heart of any self-respecting HR professional. It is estimated that disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy as much as $350 billion per year in lost productivity, accidents, theft and turnover.  And according to Gallup, about 71% of American workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work. If that’s true, well, get to the higher ground, because what we’ve got here is a workforce full of the walking dead.

I’m not saying your employees are out there dropping body parts or gnawing on office furniture, exactly. But chances are your most disengaged employees do spend a lot of time moaning at one another and making life pretty difficult for the engaged employees. And disengagement, like zombie bites, can be highly infectious.

So even if your company’s engagement is better than those sad national averages, you need to be vigilant. Active disengagement is more insidious than just a lack of engagement or a high rate of turnover. It is overtly destructive to your bottom line, and has been proven to erode customer satisfaction, productivity, and shareholder value.

So how can you stave off the zombie apocalypse at your organization? Well, here’s a hint:  the answer is not by throwing a pizza party. (Zombies only eat braiiiiiins!) The answer is in actively pursuing strategies that are proven to keep employees productive, satisfied and connected with your company goals.

So in honor of the the Walking Dead Season 3 premiere this Sunday, let’s look at five things that might help you to keep your employees engaged and contributing, instead of out applying for membership in the zombie horde:

  1. Encourage them to connect with your values: Studies show that the highest performing companies are those who align people with corporate culture, business strategy and long-term objectives. A key part of this is instilling values in your employees that are understandable and actionable. In fact, a recent study by Modern Survey found that employees who know and understand their company values are 26x more likely to be fully engaged.
  2. Facilitate relationships among them: One of the major indicators of engagement is how connected people feel emotionally to their co-workers. It is harder to unplug and disassociate when you have co-workers counting on you and encouraging you. The Gallup organization distilled this dynamic down into the question “Do you have a best friend at work?” and found that people with best friends at work were 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days and 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development.
  3. Enable them and reduce their frustrations – Even the most engaged employees will become discouraged and disengaged if they encounter roadblocks, conflict and red tape. Studies show that when engaged employees are enabled to succeed they are far more effective. Plus, a Towers-Watson report showed that companies with highly engaged employees who are enabled have 65% higher net profit margin than companies with highly engaged employees who are not enabled.
  4. Make sure they have the right kind of engagement – Did you know that are two ways employees can be engaged and that only one of them is good for your company? According to a study by the CIPD, employees can be transactionally engaged (i.e. engaged only with the task or job role at hand)  or emotionally engaged ((i.e. engaged with the organization’s mission and values). Transactionally engaged employees “respond positively to engagement surveys and display the outward behaviours associated with engagement, but are less likely to perform well and will quickly leave for a better offer,” whereas emotionally engaged employees are “more likely to perform, have higher levels of wellbeing and are more likely to remain engaged through good times and bad.”
  5. Appreciate them – Most experts agree that recognition is the number one driver of engagement. The single best way to avoid disengagement is to encourage manager-to-employee and peer-to-peer employee recognition. Feeling appreciated is a powerful driver for motivation and job satisfaction. Strategic recognition also helps to reinforce company values and clarify objectives. In fact, according to a recent Bersin & Associates study, organizations where recognition occurs have 14% better employee engagement, productivity and customer service than those without.

Consider these strategies… or brace yourself for a possible Zombie Apocalypse at your office!

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