All Commentary
Thursday, October 31, 2019

3 Ways to Avoid the Zombie Workplace

Don’t let "average" employment turn you into a mindless follower.

Hollywood created zombies who destroy and devour anything in their path. But did you know that originally, zombies were reincarnated slave-laborers? West African slaves in Haiti developed a folklore of zombies to describe their enslavement on sugar plantations. Trapped inside bodies someone else controlled, enslaved Africans faced a lifetime of brutal, mindless drudgery with little hope of escape. Even death, they feared, would not save them from forced labor. They were doomed.

But Haitain slaves also rallied around voodoo magic when they successfully revolted, overthrew their masters, and freed 50,000 slaves. The rituals of their homeland were adapted to give workers a sense of purpose and unity. Priests invoked African spirits who could lead the enslaved, Moses-style, to liberation.

Today’s workplace shares (mercifully) little with those plantations of the past, but employees are still prone to feeling lifeless and trapped. Here are some tips for avoiding the virus.

Want to Escape Zombie Employment?

The working zombie is easy to spot in modern corporate life. The walking dead trudge into our elevators each morning and populate our meetings. They’re uninspired, half-asleep, just going through the motions and waiting for the weekend. Gallup polling indicates just 1 in 3 employees is even “somewhat engaged” in their current jobs: the rest are at risk of becoming office zombies.

Terrified by the thought of joining this zombie horde? There’s good news: you don’t have to. Here are three alternatives:

  • Collaborative Companies

The future of work is flexible, customizable, and collaborative. If you want to work for someone else, seek out a company that helps employees find purposeful engagement. Culture matters, and surrounding yourself with high-achievers challenges you to be your best. Opportunities to grow in your role—and to be treated like an individual instead of a cog—set the new generation of workplaces apart.

Zombie organizations—lifeless husks that chew up anonymous workers and discard the bones—will suck out your soul and the meaning of your work. You won’t need a shotgun to ward off the horde, just enough awareness to resist becoming one of them.

  • Adventurous Entrepreneurship

Like the rugged survivor in the post-zombie-apocalypse tales, entrepreneurs create new realities for themselves and others. They resist conforming and invent new ways to meet those needs. Some horde scarce resources (think Mad Max) but others create unbelievable abundance. Crucially, you won’t have to wait to be handed your dream job if you invent it yourself. Data show more members of GenZ are delaying or skipping college to start a business debt-free. Many are taking advantage of online skill development, a new generation of e-learning tools.

Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from the zombie genre: survival is not for the fainthearted, always be on your guard, learn your opponents’ weaknesses, and don’t try to go it alone. See FEE’s Revolution of One for inspiration to reinvent yourself through creativity and purpose.

  • Heroic Hustles

The digital economy empowers motivated individuals, not mindless slaves, by letting you generate income on your own terms. Set yourself free from 9-to-5 drudgery through freelancing, ride-sharing, peer-to-peer lending, personal services, and other short-term gigs. Pay is less dependable when you’re working for yourself, but lifestyle factors can make up for the loss: a flexible schedule and a casual dress code are just the start. In-demand skills command $80-100 per hour, but the midpoint is closer to $20 per hour. Read reviews by other gig workers before signing up with any service, and don’t forget to keep records for taxes.

While those creeping creatures of conformity wait to have their wage slips stamped, you can write your own ticket. Dodge the walking dead of heavy regulation and decaying monopolies and your own determination can set you free from the daily grind.

Refuse to Give In

The dead-eyed, slack-jawed masses of zombie workers should terrify us more than any horror film. What movies won’t tell you is this: each of us is a “carrier” of the zombie contagion. In every movie, there’s one character who gets bitten but tries to blend in among the living. There’s no suspenseful moment of bite-and-transform. It’s subtle, and silent. If you’re not careful, zombie-brain can sneak up on you. If you let complacency creep in, stop challenging yourself to excel, the hollowness can overtake you. When you settle for a routine instead of building your skills and planning for what’s next, you surrender by default. Adventure over.

Don’t let “average” employment turn you into a mindless follower. Fight for your individuality—and take your own risks—if you want to get out alive.

  • Dr. Laura Williams  teaches communication strategy to undergraduates and executives. She is a passionate advocate for critical thinking, individual liberties, and the Oxford Comma.