Millennials and The March of the Zombies

In _Home, Millennial Observations by Shaun Hall3 Comments

Hello Readers! I’m so excited to introduce our guest author today. Tim Cole is the author of The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career. I’m in the process of reading his book, and I have been nothing short of impressed. My review will be coming out in just a few weeks but in the meantime, Tim would like to share his awesome thoughts on Zombies. Enjoy!


Zombie – a will-less and speechless human held to have died and supernaturally reanimated

Career Zombie – a will-less and speechless human held to have died on the job and marginally reanimated


So what’s the difference in the two?  The first makes for good television. The second is very, very real – and chances are good you will become one.

Don’t believe me?  I can prove it – and the numbers back me up. Let’s focus on the group must susceptible to becoming Career Zombies – THE MILLENNIALS.

Last year Gallup released what may be the most definitive study of Millennials in the work place. The results were staggering.

Consider that in a survey with over 1 million respondents:

  • Only 29% report they remain engaged in their field of choice
  • 50% plan to leave their place of employment in the next year

This from a group that already constitutes 38% of the work force – and 75% by 2025.

Seventy one percent of Millennials don’t want to be in their jobs – disengaged and dying in their careers.


No longer passionate about their work, unable or unwilling to move, and only going through the motions – and this from arguably the most talented of us.

The future of our country.

Now before you begin to think the Zombification of the U.S. work force is limited to just the youngest workers – think again. The affliction strikes all generations – and costs our economy billions each year – to the tune of $450 to $550 billion as a matter of fact.


The march of the employed walking dead.

In my years in the corporate world I saw the evolution of that march – and over time began to appreciate some of the causes.  Here’s a good way to describe the descent – I’ll borrow a story from a good friend and ex-Special Forces operative, Jan Rutherford to provide context.

Jan describes the incredibly challenging training he went through to earn his Green Beret and one example I think, perfectly defines what and why burnout can be pervasive in the work force.

Every day Jan and the other trainees participated in a rucksack run – long, incredibly exhausting, and pushing each soldier to his limit.  Now keep in mind the average human couldn’t come close to completing this kind of “burdened run.” But a majority of these specially selected participants did  – until the day came that the drill sergeant didn’t stop the battalion when they got to their predetermined stopping point.

Instead he said, “Keep running!”

Suddenly the game changed. For the soldiers, old “agreements” or assumptions about their world went out the window. Jan says an amazing thing happened then – some of these tough, well-conditioned athletes began to struggle and some of them finally, to drop out.


The argument could be made that it wasn’t the physical will that collapsed – it was the mental.  Now the soldiers no longer knew why they were running – or how far.  A pre-set destination they were equipped to manage – but one that seemed interminable was devastating.

I would submit the very same thing occurs in many careers.  The job – when it has no purpose in the context of a larger career – or seems without any endpoint – or no direction, is no longer tolerable – and the burnout cycle begins in full.


Here then are the five stages of the Career Zombie Descent into Employment Hell.

Watch for them – the symptoms are universal – and the results – devastating.

Stage 1 – Loss of purpose – best characterized as the vanishing passion that once characterized the career vision.  Without purpose the career threatens to default to its weaker shadow– a job. I’ve seen hundreds, perhaps thousands of disillusioned employees who lose the sense of “why” they work – and begin to struggle.

Stage 2 – Loss of direction – minus the purpose that once fueled the role the job suddenly becomes more burdensome. This is where the career oriented professional now fully becomes just an employee – and the blood that once coursed through the veins of that ambitious driver begins to grow cold. (And yes, the similarities to the rucksack run are fairly stunning.)

Stage 3 – Loss of interest – the metamorphosis is now taking place in full.  “I no longer know where I’m going – or why – what am I doing here?” Start times suddenly are more difficult to get up for. The reports you once invested more time than necessary on you now begin to mail in.  Now the run has no end – and the psychological collapse is in full gear.

Stage 4 – Loss of engagement – typified by full sub-human symptoms. You no longer want to be here – you dream of finding a way out. The memory of what was once a bright future seems distant, if it can be recalled at all.  In the rucksack run, here is where the runner slows and begins to watch his compatriots pull further away.  Tap out is about to begin.

Stage 5 – Total burnout or said another way, Full Zombie.


They’re real you know – the Career Zombies.  And they are on the march.  Like the staggering, mindless corpses we see on the big screen and our television sets they are spreading.

The stages are clear.

The defenses are less so – but they are there.


Tim Cole is the founder and CEO of The Compass Alliance.  His book, The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career offers practical direction to both senior leaders and employees on how to cultivate a rich culture – and ensure a significant work experience.  You can learn more at


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  1. Tim,
    Thank you for your comments. I have totally see this downward burnout cycle and have worked beside career zombies. Is there hope for someone on the death spiral, an antidote? Is there something that as a supervisor/coach/peer that you can do to reanimate them? Or is there a point on the cycle, that they are beyond hope and should just leave?

  2. Tim, I’m with Charlie on this. This is great.

    Can we get you back for another guest post to tease us with some of the solutions to career zombies, especially from a leadership perspective – identifying, coaching, and end game?

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