My coworkers are zombies

What’s more popular right now than zombies? Zombie T.V. shows, zombie books, just about anything zombie is trendy. In fact, just yesterday I saw a road race in which zombies would chase participants as they attempted to complete course. Craziness. And while we may find amusement watching zombies slowly stagger after the living in search of dinner, what is not cool is to work with zombies as coworkers. As one who survived a zombie infested workplace, I can personally attest to the mind-numbing experience that such a workplace is. So, how do you know if your workplace has become infested with zombies?

Signs You are Working Amongst the Living Dead

Zombie workplaces have a few telltale signs. First and foremost, understand that it is virtually impossible to work with a singular zombie. Just like the movies, they are just too slow and clumsy to survive very long by themselves. Zombies exist in packs. So, just as the title of this post alludes, you don’t work with a zombie. You work with zombies (plural). Here’s how you know if you are working amongst the living dead:

  1. Work zombies move slowly, following the same routines every day – workplace zombies are neither fast moving nor do they enjoy “mixing it up.” They are creatures of routine. So, if you look around and work feels like the movie “Ground Hog Day,” that is your first sign.
  2. Work zombies stay in the same place a very long time – if you begin hearing stories of your slow moving colleagues doing the same job they are currently doing in the same location for decade upon decade, that is one more sign they may have died long ago.
  3. Work zombies gang up on the living – the third sign pushes us even closer to zombie land. If you notice that the “living” at work (colleagues who move more quickly, try to bring in change, offer new ideas and threaten zombie routines) are ganged up against, zombies are alive and well at your job (no pun intended).
  4. You are losing your brains – This final sign is the nail in the coffin that not only are you amongst zombies, you are slowly becoming one of them. As I heard one client tell me, “I wake up every day, do the same job, and I swear that I think I am getting dumber each day.” If that’s you, you need to accept your fate or get moving and fast.

Strategies for Keeping Your Brains Intact and Eradicating Work Zombies

There are a few strategies that work well in throwing zombies off of your scent and ultimately taking them out. Consider the following:

  • Blend in – While you may be pulling your hair out with the slow lumbering pace and mind-numbing routines, it is best to appear to look like a zombie yourself. They’ll quickly embrace you as one of their own and move on.
  • Hide out with the “living” – get together with other “living” colleagues like yourself in secret. Talk about ideas, visions, plans for change and other mind-stimulating topics. The key here is to not be too bold or blatant about your meetings. The last thing you need is a pack of zombies clawing at the door and breaking windows trying to get at you and your comrades.
  • Take out workplace zombies one at a time – most zombie fighters fail due to an overall lack of patience. They suit up, armed to the hilt, proudly proclaim their war against zombie work styles and try to make sweeping changes effective immediately. This rarely works. Zombies resist and ultimately drive out the zombie fighter. The best strategy is to pick off the lead zombies one at a time. This usually requires a combination of performance management by the zombie’s manager as well as starvation from their regular routines and “food sources.” In other words, clear isolation and alienation for the zombie unless they change their zombie ways.

If you are committed to changing a zombie workplace, the good news is that it can be done. I’ve seen it first-hand. The not-so-good news is that it requires time, patience and planning. Going in guns blazing only draws zombies to your scent. So, you have to ask yourself: “Is the town (your workplace) worth saving or do you need to move on?” But be careful. If you stay and don’t follow the strategies I outlined above, you’ll wake up one day and realize you’ve become one of them. You’ll have a strong desire to do exactly what you did the day before and anyone with other ideas will look to you like a tasty meal. At that point, embrace your life of slow moving, comforting routines until you are taken out – the eventual fate of all zombies.


The Workplace Therapist Featured on The Today Show

For more, read the entire My Coworker is Scary series.

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4 replies
  1. Marie says:

    Haha! This was funny! I feel like I am the only non-zombie at my job (made up of 4 people including me). I’ve been here the shortest amount of time out of all of us and I really don’t want this to be my fate! I feel like if I have to do this one more day I will go crazy. Sometimes I wonder if I should just quit my profession but then I see other labs that have fun and communicate and that makes me keep my pathway. But seriously why would someone email you when you’re sitting right next to each other!!!

  2. Sarah says:

    Wow, this sounds exactly like the job from whence I now type. My office may as well have a personality checker at the door – one who confiscates said personality upon arrival, and reluctantly hands it back to employees as they leave at 4:30. After being here for several years, I’ve managed to keep my sanity by having numerous side projects (and thank god unlimited internet access). I’ve now reached the end of my rope and am back at school to pursue other independent avenues. Your “hide out with the living” strategy was fantastic. A couple of my human co-workers and I attempted to do just that – but their loud bursts of laughter as we exited the building for lunch drew the head zombie’s attention. By the next week, the zombie leader made sure to separate our lunch breaks and hack into our emails; ensuring that no human-to-human contact was made – lest it threaten the brain dead masses. Oh, how I do miss my personality. I anxiously await its pickup in 2 hours.

  3. Brandon Smith says:

    Sarah, I frickin’ love your description! I felt like I was there… dodging zombie bosses and secretly trying to sneak in a lunch escape with other living humans. Keep those brains safe!

  4. Don Bee says:

    I don’t speak about this often, lest the delicate balance be disturbed. But I gave in a few years ago, and my evaluations have never been better (they rarely even do them anymore – skip, skip skip)! Don’t get me wrong, I tried, oh how I tried. A young man in his mid-late 20s, I’d come up with reasonable plans, genuinely polite and respectful towards seniority. Problem is (and I didn’t realize it at the time), they didn’t want to put in much work… so the plan would get botched, and guess who got blamed when things didn’t work like I said they would? Then they labelled me a millennial fool and, like lots of other company inventory, they put me in a box back up on the shelf, perpetually forgotten.

    Like Sarah said, having Internet at work allows your mind to break out of the numbness. I’ve learned tons about finances, investing, the legal system, technology, handling estates, and a whole slew of different topics that interest me. The mean old rich men who own this racket keep collecting their millions by schmoozing and scheming, while little young capable me sits here unnoticed, unmanaged, collecting and investing the cash they plop into my account every other week. Wake up folks, it’s the new capitalism.

    And it’s changed from the top, not the bottom. I say “changed” rather than “broken” because it’s not really broken… it’s working real well for the owners at the top (assuming their goal is to get richer), and it works well for peons like me who aren’t ashamed to redirect their conscientiousness to other tasks, allowing the owners to fund those endeavors. It doesn’t work out so well for the consumer…. America is essentially a service economy, and this modern work model is really terrible at providing quality service. I mean, the service in this country is so poor that we need to legislate and make laws just to make a stable and somewhat safe baseline for the consumer. So it’s become the function of government to essentially manage the workforce so that the owners don’t have to be bothered to manage. Go ahead, blame it on the millennials… we have a great plan for our bosses’ retirement 😉

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