Why the Zombie Apocalypse Needs an HR Director
The Walking Dead finished its fifth season in March, and I have to admit I enjoy a story that involves supernatural creatures in the apocalypse. Without giving too much away, this season saw our band of survivors joining a group of people who had built a small, walled-in community. Their leader is a politician who attempts to maintain normalcy. One way she does this is by giving out jobs, which got me to thinking about HR’s role in the event of zombie apocalypse. OK, so maybe that is far fetched, but there are some things we can learn when we take a look at zombies in the workplace.
Managing the Zombie Hordes
My first HR job was at a manufacturing and distribution company. At its largest, the company had over 600 employees—many of whom worked in the distribution center, manufacturing or packaging. Pay was low, benefits weren’t great and turnover was high. Whenever anyone would approach the owner about improving wages, he would say, “If people don’t like it here, they can get a job elsewhere.” This created an overall attitude that employees were just mindless drones wandering warehouse aisles and filling boxes. At times it felt like we should just throw a bunch of zombies in the warehouse.
Employees are not zombies. When we start seeing them as being easy to replace and expendable, we are really just managing the zombie hordes. Stick a knife in the head of an unruly zombie. Hire another one. Repeat. While such an approach may work in the world of The Walking Dead, it is not a good way to manage human employees.
Spend some time figuring out how you can support your employees on the low end of the pay scale. Invest in your staff by improving benefits, increasing wages and providing opportunities for development and training. If money is tight, find low cost ways to make changes. This could include a better employee discounts, incentive programs, wellness programs and flexible work schedules. Make employees feel like more than zombies by getting to know them, and improving conditions in the workplace. When employees are happy with their employer, they are much more likely to work hard for you.
Avoiding Survival Mode in the Workplace
In a zombie apocalypse, people go into survival mode. Staying alive is a matter of reacting to danger and rarely is there time to think through and carefully plan how to build a fortress or other such safety matters. While such a way of living is the norm in an apocalypse, it should not be the way we approach work.
Survival mode at work happens when we always feel like we are barely keeping the zombie threat at bay. Work is about reacting rather than planning. While working in HR can be unpredictable at times, there are lots of ways we can help the company plan for challenges. Whether it is succession planning, preparing for an emergency or simply managing your day better, make time in your schedule to create processes, so you can avoid feeling like the leader of a band of apocalypse survivors when crisis strikes.
How to Keep a Zombie from Infecting Your Staff
A toxic employee can be like a zombie. Instead of biting others to spread the zombie plague, the toxic employee spreads gossip and stirs up others with their negativity, which eventually creates more toxic employees as others take on that negative energy.
If you realize you have a zombie on your team, start by confronting the employee directly. It is better to address problems as soon as they come up. If you wait, you may find that you need to stab your zombie employees in the head and hire a whole new team. When you confront the employee, avoid being adversarial. You want to let the employee speak, so you can figure out what is causing their negativity. Share your expectations for the team, and be ready to provide support to help the employee overcome the negativity.
I have found that often toxic employees feel like their concerns are not being addressed by their manager. This can easily be remedied. Set up regular meetings with the employee to check in. Get updates on whatever projects their working on and find out if there are areas they need support on. Make an effort to give regular feedback, and praise the employee when they do a good job. Doing so may help you avoid the spread of a zombie plague in your workplace.
About the Author
Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR, is the owner of Hammerwold & Pershing Consulting and specializes in small business HR support. Stephanie is a regular contributor at Blogging4Jobs and The HR Gazette, and she gives presentations on a variety of job search and workplace topics. She specializes in training, employee relations, women’s issues and writing employment policy. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.