What’s scarier than the Halloween monsters said to roam the streets at midnight on the 31st of October? The ‘monsters’ who occupy our workplaces every other day of the year.
The big difference between the monsters who scare you as a child and those in our adult lives is that the monsters under our beds as children are a figment of our imaginations, but the monsters in our adult lives are all too real. They’re cutting us off in traffic, they’re leaving the toilet seat up and they’re making our working lives a living nightmare.
To celebrate Halloween, the most Australian of holidays, HRM looks at the different kind of workplace monsters (read: normal people who do things that are annoying and/or not professional) and how they are best dealt with.
The workplace vampire
Office vampires are people who suck the life out of your day. It might be a boss with unrealistic expectations, a coworker determined to hijack a meeting or an office acquaintance who wants to constantly unpack the dream they had the night before in minute detail.
Most office vampires don’t know they’re vampires, and those who do, don’t care. They just feed on your energy and once they’re sated (or quenched? Is blood a meal or a beverage?) they’ll move on with their day, completely energised, leaving a husk of a human in their wake.
Being bitten can send you into a spiral of unproductivity and low motivation, as you’re forced to feign interest and politely nod as Stephen (classic vampire name) recounts the part of his dream when he realised he was dreaming. Really? And then what happened, Stephen?
How can you slay the vampire? With garlic, of course. Stephen hates garlic. If that fails, try setting healthy boundaries. If your vampire is making a beeline for your desk, start the conversation by saying, “I only have five minutes to talk.” And don’t feel bad declining a lunch invitation. It might sting them in the short term, but it will benefit you in the long run.
The workplace zombie
If you notice staff are wandering around aimlessly, distracting their colleagues or staring blankly at their screens, you might have a few zombies in your midst. Anyone can succumb to the zombie life. It could be a burnt out employee, a junior or new staffer who hasn’t been properly onboarded or someone who’s working out their notice period.
Whatever the cause, it highly unlikely that an office zombie’s output is matching your business needs. Not only are they holding up their team members, they’re also costing you – big time. Sources place presenteeism costs at around $34 billion each year. Plus disengagement can be be contagious; so if your initial outbreak isn’t addressed you could soon have an entire workforce of zombies.
How can you bring back the dead? The first step is to assess why the staff member’s engagement or productivity is low. Ask questions like, are staff getting enough sleep? What’s motivating them to turn up to work? Are we paying staff fairly? We all know the undead emerge from graveyards, so make sure your office isn’t one. Staff who remain in organisations with high turnover rates take a hit to their engagement levels and overall trust in management can erode.
The workplace ghost
You’ve made a great hire, you’ve spent time and money ensuring they’re set up from day one and sometimes you’ve even coughed up the funds to relocate them. Then their first day rolls around, they turn up and someone will spend the day introducing them to the team, taking them through their responsibilities and showing them how to use the printer.
All is going well until the new recruit is taken out for lunch by their new colleagues. Who knows what was said at that lunch, but the next day your new recruit doesn’t show up. They disappear into thin air, never to be seen again. This happened to me (I wasn’t the ghoster, I was one of the colleagues who took the new recruit out for lunch… opps) and my experience, according to UNSW Business school, is not unique.
There’s a scale of severity when it comes to the workplace ghost. There can be those who fail to turn up to an interview (annoying, but not damaging to the business), there’s those who’ve been hired, but fail to turn up on their first day (much more annoying and slightly more costly) and then there’s worst kind of ghost. These are people who work for a decent period of time and then suddenly quit without notice – this is where the astronomical cost of staff turnover is really felt by a business.
How can you bust the ghost? HRM has previously written about workplace ghosts and offered some advice for employees, but to share some personal advice, don’t let the new recruit hang out alone with disgruntled staff… but what was I supposed to do? Lie to the poor woman?
Who else lurks in our offices?
Those three workplace ghouls, but they’re by no means the only ones. Here are just a few more than you should keep an eye out for:
- Dr Frankenstein: We do not mean the monster. This is the scientist. It’s a leader who micromanages and/or manipulates staff until they act in the exact way they want them to. The consequence is a patched together employee who just wants to escape – either to another team or another organisation.
- The shape shifter: A gaslighting employee who changes their behaviour from one day to the next. They can shape shift from a charming, friendly co-worker into someone who is manipulative and cruel. You never know where you stand with them.
- The blob: Ah the blob. This is an employee who has bad hygiene habits. No reason they have to leave overheated tuna in the microwave until it cools down, but they do.
- The troll: This is the employee who might consider their comments to be ‘banter’ but it’s clear to everyone else that it’s bullying. If you confront them, they will roll their eyes at everybody’s inability to understand their sophisticated sense of humour. A workplace troll is often at the centre of complaints and can quickly cause a workplace culture to turn toxic.
- The dragon: Unlike the office troll, an office dragon isn’t trying to pass their behaviour off as humorous. They won’t shy away from screaming down anyone that gets in their way and often elicit fear in those around them. HR professionals can try to manage these drags by channeling this into what’s called ‘productive anger’.
- The office poltergeist: This is where you have a departed spirit who has infested your workplace. They throw furniture around, make the pipes groan and just generally haunt the place. Unlike the rest of the examples, this one is actually fictional. OR IS IT?
If garlic doesn’t get rid of your workplace vampires, maybe it’s time to have a difficult conversation. Ignition Training’s Conflict Management course will arm you with the right tools to know what to say.