Let’s start with the basics, what actually is a zombie?
Originally it referred to a dead person brought back to life by means of magic or voodoo. That person had no will of its own and was controlled by its master, the person brining it back to life.
In current movies zombies are mostly living people who got infected by a virus and thus were turned into creatures that have no real drive other than feeding themselves. They mostly appear in groups, but don’t seem to communicate with each other, like a leftover behavioral thing from the time they were humans.
In philosophy the word zombie is used to describe someone who lacks a sense of him/her self, lacking emotions or interests.
All above have something in common. They all are creatures, looking like humans, but not showing any drive or interests in anything other than most basic needs, like eating, drinking and sleeping.
They are among us
Last week I attended a trading fair and got the chance to talk to many business owners and, just like me, they all had encounters with zombies. To be fair, they always have been around, but in recent years the population seems to have exploded.
What I am talking about is a (young) person coming to you for a job, but already at the interview you notice a lack of actual interest in the position. Mostly they get dropped off by their parents, probably forced to go there to “finally get a job” and only staying, because it started to dawn on them, that without a job getting food would be hard.
In the past, that was not an issue, there were only few and the problem was solved by hiring someone else.
But that is not an option anymore, finding someone actually willing to work and showing interest in the job is getting harder and harder. And sometimes you have no other choice than hiring a zombie.
My last encounter with zombies was a couple of months ago, a customer of mine needed to replace his two secretaries. Now he has four and honestly they don’t make up for one of the last two. My job was to show them how to work with our software. In short, make your life easier by using the computer right. One would expect that at such an event, they would enter with paper and pen, to take notes and ask questions on how to solve problems they encountered.
Not the case here, they just lay there (one of them actually was lying with her head on the conference table), doing nothing, just waiting for this to be over, every now and then checking their (private) phones.
I tried to engage them, talked to them individually, asked them questions. Nothing, sometimes not even an answer, just empty eyes looking through me.
Just to point this out, this actually happened exactly as written above, no exaggerations and I think we all have been there. Also these things are not boring when I do them, I always put in a lot of humor, because I know how boring and dry these things can be.
The question is, how do we deal with this.
Just to point out, how bad the situation is already, the german economics professor Evi Hartmann wrote a 200 something page essay about this lack of motivation at companies, with the clinging german title “Ihr kriegt den Arsch nicht hoch” (you don’t get you asses up). Not sure if it is available in english, but if you speak german, it is a great read.
The movie approach
In most movies, zombies are mostly dealt with by shooting them, but I guess that won’t be an option for our zombies.
More ambitious movies deal with the problem by finding the magic/virus/origin that brought about the zombies and dealing with that, basically not treating the symptoms, but the actual problem.
But what is the origin of our zombie problem?
A problem that I can’t really get my head around to be honest. From the first day I had a job, I always was all in, tried to give my best, tried to improve myself, bought books, taught myself more skills in my spare time, tried to bring more value to table for the company that paid my bills.
Also, and this is my bringing up, I never expected to get something for free, from a very young age my father taught me that if I wanted something, I had to work for it and looking around, I can’t be grateful enough for that lesson. (Not only typing this, because he reads my blog now)
Maybe that is an origin of the problem, as things are, I see many parents taking care of everything for their children until they are grownups (physically), give them trophies for showing up, yelling at the teachers for giving them bad grades and all of a sudden, they are expected to work for their wages and take responsibility. I mean, my parents never would have had the nerve to tell the teacher that my grades needed to improve, they told me (often) and if my grades did not went up, that was bye bye for the weekend, stay at home and study.
But maybe I am wrong, something else happened in recent years too. Stuff started to be “free” for people. Youtube, Facebook, Google, hell even phones on a contract. And if such great stuff comes for “free” it is kind of hard to explain, why other stuff isn’t and why one should work for that. In Austria “digital competence” was added THIS year (2022) to the official teaching plan. Now I don’t even want to imagine what is actually being taught there, but I am pretty certain it’s not explaining, why any of that stuff isn’t really for free and why maybe our old system, where we worked for money and paid for stuff was way better.
Or, maybe it is something entirely different. We always read in the papers about young people killing or severely hurting themselves because they can’t live up to the beauty ideals ever present on Instagram and Co. Maybe the flood of images from those social networks have established the expectancy that everyone has that new Ferrari, yacht and private plane and starting to work and seeing you first paycheck might be a slap in the face that completely demotivates you. I should point out that after receiving my first salary I figured I made it and was rich, although actually being paid shit.
Maybe it is the fault of employers, maybe there are not enough options and chances to get forward in companies anymore, no goals to reach, no positions to claim.
Could be nothing from all that above just as well or the combination of it and I don’t think I will figure it out any time soon, but I am certain that finding the root of this evil is the first step to dealing with it.
But maybe we can treat symptoms in the meanwhile, that is better than nothing.
Dealing with zombies
Zombies are highly infectious if the movies are to be trusted and you don’t want them to bite the rest of your staff.
Okay, I hear you, they are not actually going to bite (hopefully), but they are going to pull down the others. If it starts to get noticed, that is doesn’t matter how hard you work, you’ll just get paid as much and be treated the same as the zombie, you start loosing you motivation little by little until you become a zombie yourself. As a business owner you can’t simply cut the pay of someone doing the bare minimum, but you can reward others who do more, not necessarily in cash, but by extended responsibilities, higher standing at the company or just a say in the things they are experts on.
Zombies have stamina, you would not believe it, but they can do one thing for a long time: running.
The same applies for our little zombies, give them something they need to be creative about, where they need to go beyond themselves and they will fail. But give them a repetitive task and you wouldn’t believe how well they can actually “run”. This also has the benefit of getting that boring task away from a motivated employee, which increases their motivation because: “Great, I don’t have to deal with that shit anymore”. A zombie won’t win a Nobel-Prize, but it might get someone else there.
You never know when the next zombie will strike
We all know these scenes, you are about to take a shit and all of a sudden the zombie is at the toilet eating you there, just out of nowhere. Some are even well disguised and you don’t notice them at first sight. That is why you need to put up bells, so you hear them coming. What I mean by that is establishing a basic monitoring of what everyone does on average and how much everyone does on average. Not spy on employees 24/7, but get a feeling for what is done and for how long stuff can take. That way, you will hear the bells go off, when the zombie is coming (i.e. there is a spike in your statistics).
Zombies eat brains
Okay, you got me, nothing we can do about that, but it’s also just something Hollywood makes you believe and I have already spent way more time on this post than I wanted.
But please, do feel free to contact me, have you had zombies at you company as well? How are you dealing with them?