Working with Zombies: 3 Surefire Ways to Awaken the Working Dead

October 18, 2016 by

working deadSeveral years ago, I got wrapped up in the TV Show AMC called “The Walking Dead.” For those of you who have not seen it, the show is about the world being taken over by zombies who savagely bite living people and transform them into fellow zombies. While doing keynote speeches at national and international conferences, I teach my audiences about the largest category of workers, which are people who are neither engaged or disengaged. Essentially, this inspired me to call these people “The Working Dead.”

These employees:

  • Are not likely to go the extra mile.
  • Do not volunteer for extra work or effort.
  • Display low energy and lackluster performance on assignments.
  • Simply approach their job day by day, instead of as a career, and often feel unappreciated or unimportant.
  • Come to work primarily for the paycheck.
  • Are more likely to have a haphazard attendance record.
  • Watch the clock for the time their work shift ends.

So what can you do to better manage this challenging work population? Here are three proven ways to awaken your “Working Dead.”

1. Voluntell them.
Knowing that the Working Dead will not volunteer for any extra effort, maybe they need to be “Voluntold.” I did not create that word, and have no idea from where it comes, but it resonates.
The proven best practice: Identify your Working Dead in your next staff meeting by asking for volunteers for a special initiative or task. When you ask, you will see them hide behind pillars or sneak under the conference table. This is exactly why they need to be voluntold. Say, “Joe, you are on the committee.” Joe is now wondering how he wound up on the committee or special task force, but is now re-engaged. Voluntelling them completely re-engages and awakens them from their non-engagement slumber.

2. Give them a wonderfully infectious engaged mentor.
Knowing that one of the most awesome characteristics of engaged employees is their absolute positivity, why not leverage that by assigning them as a mentor to one of your Working Dead. Importantly, do not force the engaged mentor on the other person. Much like a prearranged marriage, forcing the union does not always have a favorable outcome. Instead, let your Working Dead choose from a list of wonderfully infectious mentors and encourage the two of them to meet weekly to discuss what they can do to create more engagement. By encouraging the mentorship, you will witness engagement and positivity spill off and re-engage the previously ambivalent employee.

3. Recast them.
The reality of the people in the middle category of engagement (not engaged and not disengaged) is that at least half of them are simply in the wrong job. They approach their work day with absolutely no passion for what they do, and no pride for where they work (what I have always called the two Ps of engagement). Sadly, they do not have a manager who recognizes this mismatch. Knowing this, there are two action steps you can take to re-engage these employees. First, closely analyze whether your people are indeed in the wrong role or job; if so, recast them into a role with a better fit that will reinvigorate their passion for work. (For a real-life example of recasting, check out my blog post about Ms. Betty at Ochsner Health System.) Second, encourage your employees to be reflective about their own engagement and job content, such that they can recast themselves. A great resource to encourage job reflection for your employees is a list of 20 questions they can ask themselves to determine if they are in the right job.

Given that 60% of the employees in most workplaces at not engaged or disengaged, but rather stuck in the middle, it is time to awaken your Working Dead!



Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.