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Ever Seen a Zombie in the Workforce?

According to Gallup, approximately two-thirds of the US workforce is not engaged. Simply put, these employees are going through the motions. I refer to these individuals as “Zombies in the Workforce.”

Collins English Dictionary defines a zombie as “a person who is or appears to be lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment.” Are you uninspired and complacent in your job? Like the zombies of popular fiction, are you lifeless, apathetic, or totally lacking in independent judgment?

As detailed in my book, Navigate Chaos, this was an accurate description of me in my early 30s. Furthermore, I blamed my boss, my clients, and my colleagues for my lack of fulfillment and general apathy.

Then I woke up. I took control. I realized that I was in control of my personal fulfillment and success.

Here I share three tips for you to help rid the world of zombies in the workforce – beginning with yourself.

1. Define Your Job in Terms of Why, Not What

I once led a team developing web applications and databases for the EPA ENERGY STAR program. I asked the team to tell me what they do. After hearing responses about developing code, testing applications, and building databases, I challenged the team to describe what they “really” do. Eventually, the youngest member of the team sheepishly replied, “protect human health and the environment.”

“Exactly,” I replied. Define your job in terms of “why” you do it, not “what” you do. Ask yourself the implications.

2. Craft Your Job to Align to Your “Why”

In my book, I tell the story of Ernestine Jackson. Ernestine was a cafeteria worker at the College of William and Mary for 22 years. She served food.

That’s not how Ernestine viewed her job.

Ernestine served souls. She was a surrogate mother, counselor, mentor, and friend to me and thousands of students that crossed her path every year. Following her death in 2003, the Virginia Senate authored a joint resolution in celebration of the life of Ernestine Jackson.

Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues refer to this as the art of Job Crafting – what employees do to redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement at work. Craft your job to serve a greater purpose – your why!

3. Engage Others – Lead the Way

Each year, one of the lowest scoring statements on the Federal Employee Viewpoint survey is the notion that “senior leaders generate high levels of motivation and commitment.” Gallup notes that “Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.”

If you want to rid your team of “zombies,” start with yourself. Define your job in terms of your values and purpose. Craft your job to align with that purpose. Then you will be in a position to inspire and empower others to do the same.

Next Steps

Over the next two weeks, I will unpack the two most significant factors that destroy (hypocrisy) and promote (passion) engagement in organizations. I will share tips on how you can define and implement an intentional culture to differentiate your team, promote engagement, and transform zombies in the workforce.

Perhaps this period of work and life disruption offers a great opportunity to redefine and actively pursue a values-based culture. Seek a better way!

Steve Wiley is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is a certified Executive and Leadership Coach with business and engineering management degrees from William and Mary and George Washington University. He founded CEEK with the mission to help organizations redefine and pursue wellness via solutions that enhance teamwork, mitigate anxiety, promote healthy balance, and advance a values-based, leadership culture. Prior to starting CEEK, Mr. Wiley was responsible for delivering government IT services leading an account of approximately 400 employees. He is PMP certified and a graduate of the Industry Advisory Council Partners Program. Mr. Wiley’s recently released book, Navigate Chaos, was a number one best-seller on Amazon.

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Steve Wiley

Thanks for the feedback Pearl. Next week, I will tackle the one thing that tends to most often destroy engagement in organizations.

Michael Folkray

Thank you for the post. I’m inspired to become a highly engaged manager. Also, I got your book. I’m looking forward to reading it and future posts.

Steve Wiley

Thanks for the feedback Michael. Now is a great time to get the book. In the midst of the pandemic, I slashed the price for three months. I hope it helps you “Navigate Chaos” and inspires you to be the best version of yourself at work and home.

Avatar photo Spencer Grady-Pawl

Great reminder that we’re in control of our own engagement and personal fulfillment! Thanks for sharing.