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Workplace Walking Dead

5 Symptoms to Look Out For and How to Survive

Like zombies to supple flesh, some coworkers are simply drawn to drama, disdain, and discontent. Face it, disengaged employees often quit but stay, meaning they are no longer committed to the company, the department, or the job, and they continue to show up at their workstation each day. This is usually accompanied by a sour attitude, seemingly brainless groaning, and a most unpleasant face (think Grumpy Cat). However, their toxic behavior can begin to, ahem, eat away at you as well. Let's take a closer look at this daily phenomenon and what you can do to survive the apocalypse.

Symptom #1: Change. Nope, many people if not most do not like it and do not look forward to it. In fact, research has shown that some people view change as a threat and respond with well-learned and dominant forms of behavior. This can trigger a fight response in some (conflictive, argumentative, resentful, sabotaging) or flight mode (apathy, avoidance, complacency) in others. Big changes disrupt people’s habitual behavior and force them to learn new skills, often creating discomfort and discontent, assuming they are open to learning.

Risk. Yes, there is a fairly tolerable level of risk of failure as much as there is an opportunity for success in any change situation, and our behavior within that situation often determines the outcome. Just remember, a small win is still a win, and a series of small wins is even better! You will assume a certain level of risk interacting with zombie coworkers. If you keep a cool head, and focus on the goal, you can still rise above this hurdle and create leadership opportunities for yourself.

Adapting. This doesn't mean the part where your brain succumbs to the undead. There are some very straightforward action steps to adapting to change:

  1. Have a positive attitude

  2. Ask questions

  3. LISTEN to the answers

  4. Be committed to success

Sure, this is great to know, but how do you get a person who has lost sight of what life can be like by adopting a positive attitude and engaging in the process? It’s about perception.

Symptom #2: Perception. How we understand, or even interpret, something greatly impacts how we move forward in a situation. The impression that you get from changes at work and how those changes are communicated can help or hinder your ability to adapt. Some examples of barriers to perception include stereotyping, projection, and self-fulfilling prophecies. Easier said than done, when you change your perspective, your approach and potential outcomes may change as well. (To do this, one thing you can do is help the biter to reframe the situation. Just remember not to get too close…)

Symptom #3: Commitment. Remember I said these people have quit but they stay? You would probably be safe to assume that these employees lack commitment, but this is not entirely true. These employees display levels of commitment that are considered either normative (they have a perceived obligation to stay) or continued (they can't afford to leave). Truly engaged staff display affective commitment, which is rooted in unwavering loyalty and a deep connection to the company culture. By the way, what level of #commitment applies to you?

Symptom #4: Values. Research has shown that workplace conflict is most often caused by a perceived dissimilarity in values. For example, if your job satisfaction is based on the work itself and the possibility for promotion, but your coworker is only motivated by salary, you may find you have different approaches of achieving shared company goals.

Symptom #5: Attitude. Wait, theirs or yours? Yours. Let's face it, we can't choose our coworkers most of the time, and we definitely cannot force them to change. We can however, choose the attitude with which to engage these coworkers. Take a step back, deep breath optional, and choose not how to react, but how to respond. Do not take this person’s behavior personally. You're more than likely not the source of their pain.

Survival Kit. You can run, but you do have the power to overtake workplace walkers before they feed on you. And believe me, they will feed on you, sapping you of your own motivation and drive to produce quality work… if you let them.

  • Watch the company you keep; seek out positive, fun people to spend time with if you're into that sort of thing.

  • Set the tone of the conversation to steer away from any griping about the job; touch on common topics that have nothing to do with work, like kids, tv shows, or sports. Ask questions to keep the conversation going in a positive direction.

  • Bluntly refuse to comment on workplace drama or related complaints and don't validate or debate them.

  • Avoid smoke breaks and lunch sightings with these folks because in reality, the powers that be may view you as one of the infected, whether you're bitten or not. This can be damaging to your professional image and brand.

  • Lastly, don't get bitten! If you allow yourself to buy into the negativity, you are at risk of becoming a zombie yourself.

Thanks for reading! Please share your #WWD Workplace Walking Dead stories with us on Facebook.

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