Disengagement and Zombies

The federal government appears stuck in an endless cycle of disengagement. This has not been a passing fad. It appears to be a permanent trend. Yes, disengagement went down a little bit in 2015. Unfortunately, this uptick is the equivalent of fighting a three-alarm fire with a fire hose. You may save a few rooms, but the entire house will have to be demolished.

The problem with eradicating disengagement is embedded in the challenge of uprooting a workplace disease that is so personal in nature. One person’s disengagement is another person’s engagement. One thing both disengagement and engagement have in common. They both can be contagious.

What are the symptoms of most federal government disengagement? Look no further than the six guide posts of the Office of Personnel Management’s Employee Engagement Index. You know your organization is disengaged when these drivers are under attack: (1) constructive performance conversations; (2) career development and training; (3) work-life balance; (4) inclusive work environment; (5) employee involvement and (6) communication from management.

How does disengagement spread through an organization? Someone becomes disengaged and like a zombie they bite someone else and sooner or later the entire workplace is infected with the walking dead.

These disengaged employees fueled by negativity and low morale form a zombie herd. As what happens so many times with herds, people start following the herd that later turns into a stampede.

How do you stop a stampede of zombies marching toward the land of disengagement? Leaders have to step up and take control. Sure the zombies may pick off some disengaged employees, but rarely do zombies bite everyone. You cannot save everyone, but you can save your most important people, usually high performers. These workhorses enable the organization to ride out the zombie storm and represent your best chance to rebuild the organization.

Leaders and their survivors from the zombie disengagement take over are forced to adapt and change as they confront a life and death situation. They learn to look at the world through a new lens or die as a result of the status quo. It is this combination of near death and life that can jump start a disengaged workplace back to life.

It takes people-centric leaders to keep the walking dead at bay and a group of hard working survivors to right the ship in an ocean full of zombies.

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