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. In this way, they are more powerful than traditional vampires, as their impact can be felt even in remote and hybrid workforces, not merely when in close proximity to their victims.
That said, it should be noted that workplace vampires are not the same as those who in 2022 have been described as “quiet quitters.” While definitions of that epithet have varied, the most benign version involves employees who are no longer buying into hustle culture, working extra-long hours, and sacrificing their work-life balance. While such attitudes towards work could spread to others and turn into the above description of a workplace vampire, it is more often a personal choice with ramifications (perhaps both good and bad) for the individual.
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 connection and 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 webinar recording 12 Practices and 3 Tools to Ramp Up Onboarding and Reboarding, and the article How Accenture Uses Virtual Reality to Onboard Employees and More.
Once onboard, employee connection and engagement levels must remain top concerns, as the power of workplace vampires can arise even in the best corporate cultures. Share the articles The Many Facets of Connection and Forget Return to the Office. Focus on Employee Connections with your managers and leaders to ensure they are doing all they can to keep the garlic of connection and engagement strong at all times.
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 positions or roles for which they aren’t good fits—potentially missing out on opportunities more suited to their talents, personalities, 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 underutilized by their organizations. 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). To do this, you need to first understand the skills and capabilities of such employees. i4cp’s Accelerating Workforce Readiness study found that unfortunately, less than 20% of organizations have skills databases in place. For comprehensive information on how to pursue such a solution, see i4cp’s member-exclusive How to Create a Skills Database guidebook.
With a better understanding of the skills of your employees, including any workplace ghosts, organizations can better focus on internal talent mobility. Multiple i4cp studies have shown the benefits of talent mobility, including both upward and lateral movement within the organization and even externally with stakeholder, partner, and customer organizations.
For details on these many benefits, as well as numerous best and next practices for boosting internal talent mobility, see i4cp’s Talent Mobility and Internal Talent Marketplace guidebook. The misplaced ghosts in your organization will thank you, and your overall performance levels will improve.
Whether caused by a bite or a curse, the werewolf is a human who transforms into a wolf or a human/wolf hybrid in response to the phases of the moon. 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 can become distracted—going off on unrelated tangents for no apparent reason. When such individuals are in management or leadership positions, 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. To learn more, see the infographic 6 Dimensions of Performance Feedback Culture, the article What’s Next for Performance Management, and the brief DHL—Everyone is a Keeper of the Culture.
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—seeming to wander vacantly through their days, 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.
Multiple i4cp studies have established best and next practices for creating a learning culture. For instance, i4cp’s Accelerating Workforce Readiness study determined six practices to establish and maintain a learning culture. Earlier research resulted in a Strategic Guide to Building a Culture of Learning. And for a recent discussion of this topic, see Why Learning is the Key to a Healthy Culture, an episode of i4cp’s Getting Hybrid Work Right event series which featured i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes and EY Chief Learning Officer Brenda Sugrue.
Another aspect of strong learning cultures is the emphasis on each employee hired being a “learn-it-all” rather than a “know-it-all.” While the traits of a know-it-all are painfully obvious to most, the characteristics of a learn-it-all are nuanced and revealing of their perspectives of themselves and others. See i4cp’s checklist of 16 Characteristics of a Learn-It-All for details.
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, and expanded further in i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes’ book Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions to Build an Unshakeable Company.
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 these terrors that drain engagement, productivity, and ultimate business outcomes.