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Beware of 'Office Zombies'

Oh, the horror! Office Zombies abound--and they are out to destroy your workplace. Here are the various types and the ways to inoculate yourself.
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As we begin the annual week of All Hallows, it's important to recognize that there are office zombies all around you. You yourself are in grave danger of becoming a monster who's craving for braaaaaaaaiiiinnnns! The holidays are notorious for stripping defenses and exposing your weaknesses, leaving you susceptible to assuming the bad habits from your already-infected officemates.

Have no fear. Here are clear descriptions of office zombies on the danger list, plus remedies you can use to protect yourself and your office. Read and beware.

1. The 4 O'Clock Zombie

Most people don't leave the building until after five, but this monster throws in the towel every afternoon around four. They shuffle around, rearranging paper clips and staring out the window. As others notice the zombies, susceptible targets will adopt the habit themselves, figuring the behavior to be perfectly acceptable, until it isn't.

How to protect yourself: Every day, schedule an exciting afternoon project that engages people and creates camaraderie. Zombies hate friendly activity.

2. The Gossip Zombie

They hunger for office drama. They are forever chasing after gossip, intruding into offices to dish the dirt on others and the company. They cause others great emotional distress and have been known to cause their targets to get so upset that they'll bite other people's heads off.

How to protect yourself: Keep the office conversations focused on current projects and opportunities, talk about solutions and process, and don't tolerate loose talk about people.

3. The Ego Zombie

They can't function unless everyone's watching, giving them attention, making them look good. They will stomp and chomp on anyone who doesn't give them the strokes they feel they deserve. What's more, they will destroy anyone who steals their glory.

How to protect yourself: Guard your own ego by putting it where it belongs: in group outcomes and group rewards. Help everyone collaborate in a cooperative and respectful manner. Ego Zombies are repulsed by sharing and mutual admiration.

4. The Uncertainty Zombie

Bumps in the road, financial uncertainty, shake-ups in management--if things aren't perfect, these zombies go all glassy-eyed and hang out in each others' offices moaning. Left unchecked, they can instill an infectious panic throughout the office by stimulating worst-case scenarios and conspiracy theories. This can also attract the unwanted Gossip Zombies (above).

How to protect yourself: Make sure the company has a clear vision and strategy. Make choices about your own preferred future and encourage others to do the same. Create an environment where people are aligned and committed to common objectives. Use knowledge and past success to strengthen resolve and process so you can be ready for whatever horrors come your way.

5. The Personal Time Zombie

There's no excuse too small for them to arrive late, leave early or skip out. They take long lunch hours, emergency afternoons or personal days at the drop of a hat. What are they chasing out there?

How to protect yourself:  Ask yourself--or even ask them--why are they avoiding your workplace? Can the problems be fixed with better communication or changing the dynamic? If their passion is elsewhere, maybe it is time to move on. Whatever reasons they have can be infectious and will eat up your brain trust if not dealt with straightaway.

6. The Zero Plan Zombie

They have smarts and talent, but no game plan. They never do anything with intention or efficiency, so they run themselves ragged until things start to fall off. They constantly create chaos in the office, causing others to soon become disoriented and misdirected. Unchecked, it's only a matter of time before the entire organization is wandering aimlessly and searching for purpose and focus.

How to protect yourself: Put good structure and planning in place. Don't let minds wander and create vulnerability. Make sure there is clear intention for everything and everyone. Put your greatest collective effort where it can do the most good.

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Last updated: Oct 28, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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