Do you have colleagues whose default facial expression at work is “sian”? Who try to get by doing the bare minimum each and every day? Then you’ve witnessed a zombie employee at work.
Turns out Singapore workplaces might as well be in a zombie apocalypse, as workers have been found to be Asia’s least engaged employees according to an Aon Hewitt study. Worse still, we’re in our third consecutive year of decline in terms of employee engagement, which means people are becoming less and less motivated at work.
This is bad news for employers, as zombie employees sleeping-walking through the work day are bad for company productivity and can cost the business money.
But tell that to any employee and they’ll immediately cite bad bosses and poor management as a key reason for demotivation… and they wouldn’t be wrong. A company’s leadership sets the tone for their workers and is also a key determinant of company culture.
Here are three things businesses can do to prevent a zombie infestation.
Use carrots, not sticks to produce your desired income
Singapore employers that are branded “old school” or accused of having a “traditional Chinese mentality” tend to use sticks more than carrots when it comes to getting their employees to do what they want.
For instance, they may penalise their employees for coming in late or leaving early. Bosses tend to rule with an iron fist and think such a management style is necessary to stop employees from being disobedient.
Unless your employees are working in a factory screwing caps onto toothpaste tubes, this is not a very effective management style, especially in the knowledge economy, where employees need a certain degree of freedom and motivation to produce good work. What’s more, millennial employees are much more likely than their baby boomer counterparts to quit a job they find demotivating in search of something better.
Employers who dangle carrots and use positive reinforcement to motivate their employees will find themselves with far less zombies at the office.
Other than doling out bonuses to those who perform well, other tactics could be to offer days off at the end of a tough project, allow employees to design their own benefits packages, celebrate victories at work with meals and outings, and above all make sure employees feel appreciated and respected at work.
Be willing to cede some control and offer some flexibility
Micromanaging bosses are one thing you always hear employees complaining about. Horror stories abound of bosses who track your every move, want to know exactly what time you enter and leave the office, and insist on lots and lots of face time no matter how well you are doing your job.
This distrust of employees can be extremely demotivating, causing employees to dread coming to work and compromising the quality of their work—even if they’re sitting under the boss’s nose for long hours every day.
Employers need to be willing to cede some control and offer their employees flexibility whenever it would be reasonable to do so. For instance, allowing employees to work from home a certain number of days a month and offering staggered hours is very doable in most office settings. In fact, many civil servants already enjoy these benefits.
But what if my employees take advantage of my generosity and start slacking off? That’s one of the most common concerns of employers. This can be prevented by holding employees accountable for their actual performance at work, rather than face time.
Pay attention to what kind of company culture you’re building
Many old-school bosses don’t really care about company culture. They just want employees who’ll shut up and do what they’re told.
But if you’re not careful, you could be building a company filled with bitter, angry workers who spend their lunch breaks griping about their bosses and are unwilling to help each other out, to the detriment of the company.
An organisation’s leaders play a huge role in shaping the workplace culture.
If you promote employees who’ve bootlicked and backstabbed their way into your favour, reward employees who stay back late but are not being productive, penalise those who speak up or dare to disagree with you and pit workers against each other, you’ll create a toxic workplace filled with employees who can’t wait to get away.
On the other hand, if you reward your employees for helping each other and being cooperative, and encourage employees to take the initiative to speak up and contribute, this type of behaviour will take root, and your employees will start to be more engaged and care more about their work.
Are there zombie employees at your workplace? Tell us about them in the comments.