CXO

Avoid the employee-zombie apocalypse

Learn how to use Enterprise Collaboration to solve the issue of disengaged employees.

According to Gallup over 70% of American workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their work, this is essentially defined as employees being emotionally disconnected or "sleep-walking" through their day-to-day jobs.  This is a very scary statistic.  We jokingly talk about the zombie apocalypse but it's already here and it's expensive!  Gallup estimates that disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy over $370 billion annually.  This shouldn't be surprising though because a recent McKinsey study found that in the U.S. (in just four sectors) there is an untapped annual value of between $600-$900 billion which could be unlocked via social technologies being used internally.  It's no wonder that employee collaboration and planning for the "future of work" is such a high priority for executives around the world.

So exactly what is engagement?

There are some enterprise collaboration vendors and consultants who would have you believe that engagement refers to metrics such as: comments, likes, ideas submitted, employee log-in rates, blogs created, or any other number of what I like to call "busy metrics."  However, activity is not the same thing as engagement.  Engagement refers to how connected and passionate an employee is about the company they work for and the people they work with.  In other words, engagement is about how employees feel not what they do, and there is a big difference.  Employees may be active in collaboration environments not because they want to or choose to, but because they have to.  If we look at these "busy" metrics as a way to measure engagement then we are looking at the effect of something instead of the far more important cause.

Consider some of the following numbers:

  • 70% of engaged employees indicate they have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs; only 17% of non-engaged employees say the same. (Wright Management)
  • 78% would recommend their company's products of services, against 13% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
  • Companies with high levels of engagement improved 19.2% in operating income while companies with low levels of employee engagement declined 32.7% during the same period (Tower Perrins).
  • Engaged employees advocate their company or organization - 67% against only 3% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
  • 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, as against 11% of the disengaged. 45% of the engaged say they get a great deal of their life happiness from work, against 8% of the disengaged. (Gallup)
  • Higher levels of engagement are strongly related to higher levels of innovation. 59% of engaged employees say that their job brings out their most creative ideas against only 3% of disengaged employees. (Gallup)
  • 18% of dis-engaged employees actually undermine their co-workers' success. (Gallup)
  • 72% of US workers are not engaged in their work. Defined as essentially sleep walking throughout their day. (Gallup)

Getting a sense of what your engagement looks like doesn't need to go any farther than conducting an employee survey at some sort of regular interval, say every quarter, which asks employees how they feel about working at your organization.  We use the net promoter score for our customers and many organizations could benefit from having something similar for their employees.

Business leaders are investing in social and collaborative tools (and strategies) such as Jive, Yammer, IBM Connections, Newsgator, and dozens of others to help solve this growing problem of engagement but why?  How are these approaches helping?  There are many benefits to what these tools (when properly deployed, meaning there's a strategy in place) can accomplish, employees will have the ability to:

  • Share their voice within the enterprise and become leaders and subject matter experts
  • Create communities of work, passion, and interest which in turn build trust and foster relationships
  • Get a better sense of how their contributions impact the team and the organization as a whole
  • Work more efficiently without such a heavy reliance on internal email
  • Find people and information when and where they need to
  • Receive and provide real-time feedback
  • Connect and collaborate across boundaries

All of these things help create a more engaged workforce and build a collaborative organization but this is just the starting point.  The benefits of building a collaborative organization are real and focusing on the future of work is critical.  In a follow-up post we will look at the 12 principles of collaboration that successful companies are leveraging.

Zombies are fun to watch on TV but if companies keep breeding zombies then one day we are going to wake up wondering why someone just took a big bite out of our arm.  And we all know what happens when a zombie bites a human, we get another zombie...

Jacob Morgan is the principal of Chess Media Group, a management consulting and strategic advisory firm on collaboration. Jacob is also the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Collaborative Organization, which is the first comprehensive strategy guide to emergent workplace collaboration. He can be found on Twitter @JacobM.

17 comments
TRgscratch
TRgscratch

something cynical about "every article that includes the phrase 'is such a high priority for executives around the world.' " but after reading the comments here, I'm too depressed to do so Where is the article about "how to avoid the 'just mailing it in' senior managers" ?

lolfml
lolfml

Your SMEs and highly technical assets. Raises, promotions, and high profile work assignments going to the wrong people; rampant nepotism. Sure - machine gunning *these* workers is the answer. Try competing or even surviving with a bunch of incompetent, do-nothing frauds after you've fired the staff really worth keeping. At least your mid-level managers can feel good about themselves finally. /eyeroll

jkameleon
jkameleon

. . . but only in the movies. In the occupational life, hunt and destroy tactics works better. First, you have to identify the enemy. Employee satisfaction survey which isn't as anonymous as it looks is still the best for the purpose. The rest is easy. Spare employees are abundant in this economy.

Slayer_
Slayer_

At least I think I am. I always assumed it was because when the job was fresh and I was young, I was engaged, now that I am older and the job has become routine (and boring) that I find I don't care as much, almost not at all anymore. I don't see how something like this would be fixable.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"There are many benefits to what these tools ([b]when properly deployed, meaning there’s a strategy in place[/b]) can accomplish, [b]employees will have the [i][u]ability[/u][/i] to:[/b] Share their voice within the enterprise and become leaders and subject matter experts Create communities of work, passion, and interest which in turn build trust and foster relationships Get a better sense of how their contributions impact the team and the organization as a whole Work more efficiently without such a heavy reliance on internal email Find people and information when and where they need to Receive and provide real-time feedback Connect and collaborate across boundaries" What strategy will get proto-zombie employees to actually exercise those abilities?

jkameleon
jkameleon

I'm sure there are still managers who sincerely wish to treat their employees as human beings. Alas, they have to compete against those who don't. On a global scale.

333239
333239

...good employees are not. They already have jobs and need to be attracted and kept. If you consider employees to be 'the enemy' then good luck with growing your business.

JacobMorgan
JacobMorgan

In this economy everyone is clinging to their jobs and as you said spare employees are abundant. I have several presentations, case studies, and resources which look at the best approaches. Heck, I wrote a 300+ page book on this exact topic! The smart companies and business leaders are realizing how things are changing and they are making the right investments

waltersokyrko
waltersokyrko

After firing old employees and hiring new employees, then what happens? If the environment has not changed then the new employees become zombies. Firing old employees and hiring new employees is expensive. Eventually, the organization just lives with zombie employees. When a company with engaged employees starts competing with a company with zombie employees, the company with zombie employee goes bankrupt and the managers / owners become unemployed. The market has spoken. If you are a person with power in a company with zombie employees, try to improve things or start looking for a job.

JacobMorgan
JacobMorgan

I see this is a lot with many of the companies I work with or speak with. This is why one of the themes of the future of work is going to be "customized work," which is a non-linear progression for employees to move beyond the straight line job they are currently in.

robo_dev
robo_dev

There are three things here, first, some jobs just need you to be there and break rocks, or un-break servers, not hold hands and become spiritually enlightened. Some company cultures and leaders value and allow all these happy things to happen. If you work for Google, a company run by teenagers, your experience is very different than a claims processor for a hundred year old insurance company that's losing money hand over first. Lastly, technology is great, and collaboration tools are fun. But these are only tools to make the processes you already have more efficient. Knowing how to use Photoshop does not make you a skilled artist, and no collaboration or communication tool will make an unskilled and insecure manager become a whole new person to his or her team.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... good jobs are scarcer, so it kinda levels itself out. Free market rocks! > If you consider employees to be 'the enemy' then good luck with growing your business. They don't need to know that. [i]All war is deception. (Sun Tzu )[/i]

jkameleon
jkameleon

> If the environment has not changed then the new employees become zombies. Firing old employees and hiring new employees is expensive. Fixing the environment is usually more expensive. > When a company with engaged employees starts competing with a company with zombie employees, . . . Company, which replaces employees as soon as they turn into zombies, has no zombie employees. Human resource pool requires maintenance just like any other company asset. "Just living with with zombie employees" is like skipping a scheduled maintenance or failing to replace the worn out parts. Company does so at its own peril.

JacobMorgan
JacobMorgan

There is no need to fire or hire anyone in this scenario and I don't believe I suggested that (or hope I didn't imply that!). I wrote hundreds of pages on this topic and it's more than I can write here. But, you are correct, the environment must of course change and this includes management. One of the reasons why organizations fail is the lack of senior leadership support in these initiatives. I've always said that if you are a manager who isn't investing in collaboration and thinking about the future of work, then you shouldn't be a manager. If a new employee is entering the workforce and has a choice between two companies: one where things haven't changed in the past 100 years; where employees have no voice, have to work 9-5, wear a suit everyday, and have a linear career path OR a company that empowers and engages employees, allows anyone to become a leaders, invests in collaboration tools and strategies, allows for flexible work environments, etc. Which company would that employee chose? My little brother is just entering the workforce and I can't imagine him working for a company that doesn't use social and collaborative tools to get work done, that doesn't engage and empower employees, that doesn't provide near real time feedback, and that has employees stuck reading 100+ emails a day while stuck in a cube.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Remember the pyramid of needs, the whole thing collapses if people fear for their jobs. The engaged workers will leave the company, leaving only zombies behind.

JacobMorgan
JacobMorgan

This isn't about holding hands at all or being spiritually enlightened. It's about creating an organization that is ready for the future of work. There are many discussions around robots/automation taking over human jobs, why? Because we structured our companies in such a way where employees are essentially acting like drones. We have created the perfect jobs for robots, the only problem is we didn't have the technology for robots, but now that is starting to change and automation is rapidly making it's way into the enterprise. The future of work is more than having a fun workplace. It's about having an environment where employees can create customized career paths, where knowledge is accessible by man, decisions are not made by a few, and any employee can become a leader (among other things). Managers that don't support collaboration and that don't invest in the technologies and strategies to support this should not be managers. Our organizations have been modeled after military themes where everyone needs to do the same things, only a few get access to information, everyone should dress the same and think the same, and employees should just do what they are told without asking questions. This is the perfect drone or zombie scenario. This model of work and management is being destroyed and I have many many case studies and examples I can share with you around what some of the world's largest companies (not run by teenagers) are doing.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"It's about having an environment where employees can create customized career paths, where knowledge is accessible by man, decisions are not made by a few, and any employee can become a leader (among other things)." Okay, I admit I've only worked three or four places in my career. Within that limited experience, I've seen most people are more interested in drawing a check than in career paths to leadership roles. You can put in participation and collaboration methods, but can you make people effectively use them? Collaboration doesn't just require an active interest in knowledge sharing. It requires recognizing what is worth sharing and what isn't. (This is why so many social networks are regarded as nothing but a record of meals eaten and baby's first words.) Also, not everyone wants to advance; they don't want the stress. I've reached a career plateau where I'm happy. I'm in IT because I enjoy the technology. If I go any higher, I will spend less time with 'toys' and more time on budgets, reviews, scheduling, strategic planning, etc. I'd like to thank the US taxpayers for a part-time military career that taught me I dislike these managerial activities intensely. I'm definitely not saying most employees aren't interested in doing good jobs, only that they're not interested in moving out of their comfort zones. I think people with the motivation you describe have it before they are hired. I suspect it's difficult to find enough of them to staff a company larger than a few dozens or maybe a couple of hundred. But it's difficult to induce these behaviors and attitudes if they aren't there to begin with. The larger an organization grows, the more likely it is to hire unmotivated employees. The original core no longer participates in interviewing every potential new hire. The law of averages says some 'get through the day' people will slip through the screening process, especially if they are the majority of the working population..

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