The Working Dead

Is this as good as it gets?

So many companies have teams that consistently show poor engagement because managers don't know how to meet the needs of their employees. Recent Gallup research shows that actively disengaged employees (24%) outnumber engaged employees (13%) by nearly 2-to-1 (The Damage Inflicted by Poor Managers).

Let's call these actively disengaged employees the working dead.


I talk with so many people who are unhappy at work because of their manager (according to the research above, it's about 1 in every 4 people). They are left in the dark about what's going on, delegated to without support (I like to call this the "drop and run" because managers think they're delegating when in fact they're just passing a task on to their employee without following up to see if they actually have the knowledge or motivation to complete the task), living in fear because they've been given surprise feedback, or dealing with the backlash of trying to balance family and work.

And yet, they stay. Why?

Because motivation is not an infinite resource. At a certain point, most employees stop fighting their circumstances and accept that even though they're unhappy, at least they know what they're dealing with and a new job could be even worse. Why bother trying to leave?

Think about the impact of the working dead at the office:

  • Gossip- They talk about everyone and everything, putting off work they should be doing because they don't really care anyway.
  • Pessimism- They're negative all the time. They pull their teammates down, criticize good ideas in team meetings and complain about workload.
  • Stifled innovation- They aren't sharing good ideas because they're a) not engaged enough to come up with the idea in the first place, or b) keep the idea to themselves because they don't care about the company any more. Worse, when others share, they poke holes and insert their negativity into the conversation.

It's a crisis when the norm is that people think all managers are the same (bad) and that moving to a new company won't change anything. And it's a crisis for companies because disengaged employees are staying put, impacting results, and bringing others down with them.

If 1 in 4 employees could be considered the walking dead, then every team has at least one, and I don't know what's worse - the fact that they stay, or that the manager doesn't know to do anything about it.