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Is Your Organization a Haunted House full of Workplace Monsters?

October is a month filled with unnerving imagery and themes, making it a good time to review some of the monsters that exist in the workplace—and what best and next practices we can use to minimize their negative effects.  

Vampires

These folkloric undead beings feed off the life essence—usually the blood—of their victims. Workplace vampires are employees—including some managers and leaders—who feed off their colleagues’ energy, good will, or accomplishments. They sap the strength and engagement levels of those around them. They aren’t merely disengaged in their own work—they sometimes actively sabotage their peers. Like classic vampires, they can spread the disease quite easily (especially if they are in positions with influence on others), by causing morale problems through their actions or inactions.  

How to limit the impact of workplace vampires

In novels and movies, vanquishing a vampire is a difficult task. Short of being a Van Helsing-style hunter, your best approach is to keep the vampires from multiplying, thereby limiting the harm they do. Boosting the engagement levels of your employees is the garlic of workplace vampire protections. Start with onboarding, by leveraging the i4cp Onboarding Toolkit to optimize the employee onboarding experience and get them engaged from day one. For a mega-dose of garlic, see also the new case studies on innovative onboarding practices at Microsoft and Docusign.  

Once onboard, employee engagement levels must remain a top concern, as the power of workplace vampires can arise even in the best corporate cultures. Share the infographic 6 Talent Practices that Boost Engagement and Market Performance with your managers and leaders to ensure they are doing all they can to keep the garlic of engagement strong at all times. And speaking of leaders, their opportunity to influence others can turn from good to ill, so to keep their engagement levels high, involve them in training others. While leaders-as-teachers programs are often informal, high-performance organizations are two times as likely to formalize them. Follow this six-step process when creating a new leaders-as-teachers program.  

Ghosts

Whether friendly or scary, ghosts are usually portrayed as entities trapped where they don’t belong—remaining in a particular location instead of moving on. Workplace ghosts are people stuck in a position where they aren’t a good fit, instead of moving on to a role more suited to their talents, personality, or career path. This can happen for many reasons: a change in career aspiration, business needs causing changes to a job description, or perhaps they were hired into the wrong role in the first place. Ghosts are almost always depicted as not being fully corporeal—not present in this reality, shadows of their former selves. Workplace ghosts can also be only “partially there”—disengaged and under-utilized by their organization. At best they are sub-optimally productive, at worst—especially if they are in a manager or leader role—they can really hamper a team or department until “released” to find their appropriate home elsewhere. 

How to relocate a workplace ghost

Whether you are dealing with a friendly or malicious workplace ghost, the advice is the same: help them find the destination they are seeking (whether they realize it or not.) A good place to start is by creating personal development plans, and a study i4cp conducted with ATD found that high-performance organizations were 4x more likely to do this for all employees (not only leaders or high-potentials) than low performing organizations.  

Beyond such broad support, recent i4cp research found that employees who lead ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) are more engaged, and in particular have a 2x increased opportunity to build external reputation and a 2x greater exposure to and recognition by senior leaders. Encouraging workplace ghosts to get involved with, or even lead, and ERG can increase their engagement and help them bring their whole selves to the workplace.  

And finally, sometimes workplace ghosts just need to move on, and this is where talent mobility practices are critical. High-performance organizations were found to be 2.5X more likely to plan movement of talent across key external stakeholders, including placements with customers, suppliers, resellers, and distributors, making this a helpful practice for your talented and friendly workplace ghosts.  

Werewolves

Whether caused by a bite or a curse, the werewolf is a human who transforms into a wolf or a human/wolf hybrid. An example of the broader concept of a shape-shifter, workplace “werewolves” or “Jekyll and Hyde”-types are those who sometimes work productively toward appropriate goals, but often go off on unrelated tangents. When in a management or leadership position the negative impact can be even greater, as entire teams can be led astray. Such inconsistent employees can be so harmful to an organization and can leave you wishing that they merely turned into a wolf on full-moon evenings.  

How to remove the curse of workplace werewolves

You won’t need to resort to silver bullets, as there are some talent management best practices available. What allows a workplace werewolf’s inconsistency to continue for so long? Traditional performance management solutions are one enabler, but research by i4cp and the Center for Effective Organizations found that implementing a performance feedback culture, rather than only tinkering with specific performance management techniques, will have the greatest impact on performance effectiveness.  

A performance feedback culture is established and nurtured by company practices that focus managers’ attention on doing performance feedback effectively, including regular and varied communication, training on how to do it well, modeling by senior executives in how they do it for their subordinates, and rewards and recognition for doing it well. An improved approach to performance management will eliminate many workplace werewolves’ issues with inconsistent productivity.  

Zombies

Essentially corpses that have been reanimated, zombies are usually portrayed as arising through some mystical means such as witchcraft, or by a virus (as in the hit TV series The Walking Dead). Wikipedia also describes a zombie as: “a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli.” Does that sound like anyone in your organization? There are days when we’ve all felt a bit zombie-like, whether due to illness, stress, or some other temporary factor. A real talent problem arises, however, if some employees become consistently unthinking—unable to use good judgment in applying best practices, unable to focus on goals that are aligned with the business, or unwilling to learn and develop their knowledge and skills to better support the organization’s needs. 

How to keep workplace zombies from arising

To fend off the workplace zombie-inducing virus, high-performance organizations focus on creating a culture of learning. After all, if your employees are frequently stimulated by a wide variety of learning experiences, they are far less likely to become disengaged and unthinking. Fostering such a learning culture, backed by the tools that enable it, can even reverse the workplace zombie disease in employees already infected.  

A study conducted by i4cp and ATD found that high-performance organizations encourage their employees to share knowledge with their colleagues at a rate four times greater than that of workers in lower-performing firms. That communication is supported by rewarding workers for learning, providing tools and resources for creating and sharing learning content, and making knowledge sharing a performance expectation at all organizational levels.  

The same study found that learning cultures are actually rooted in the hiring process. Discussing an employer’s commitments to ongoing talent development during pre-hire interviews is a distinguishing trait of high-performance organizations, as they apply this strategy at six times the rate of lower performers. 

Another study conducted by i4cp and ATD focused on strategies for advancing innovation. A next practice identified in that study also helps drive a culture of continuous learning, namely providing creative time for reflection, collaboration, experimentation, etc. High-performance organizations leverage this anti-zombie approach 2.5 times more than their low-performing counterparts.  

Even with a strong learning culture, the modern world of work can still create workplace zombies due to collaborative overload. Our recent study on the importance of purposeful collaboration found that high-performance organizations were 2.5X more likely to ensure that employees do not become so overloaded with collaborative demands that they are unable to make positive contributions. Follow the five ways high-performance organizations avoid collaborative overload to further inoculate your organization from the workplace zombie virus.  

Lastly, if your organization is already a haunted house, full of workplace monsters of every sort, then a change in culture is likely needed. Follow the 18 actions for a successful culture renovation in i4cp’s study Culture Renovation: A Blueprint for Success. Whether one by one or all at once, as a savvy HR leader you can be the hero who leverages best and next practices to put an end to the these terrors that drain engagement, productivity, and ultimate business outcomes.

Happy Halloween!