On TV, in the headlines and even, surprisingly, in the corridors of the CDC, there seems to be more than the usual worry about zombies these days. But despite all this recent publicity for the walking dead, should you be more exercised about the possibility of a zombie invasion at your business?
That’s what creative-staffing firm Vitamin T is saying following the release of its new research on the true costs of unproductive and morale-destroying hires, which the firm has creatively dubbed “zombie hires.” After totting up the expense of salary, benefits, time wasted on the hiring process and the negative effects on fellow team members, Vitamin T concluded that 41% of companies estimate the cost of bringing such a zombie on board at more than $25,000, while 1 in 4 firms believe a bad hire costs it more than $50,000.
Who qualifies as one of these expensive zombie hires (or as pun-happy Vitamin T likes to call them, the working dead)? Susie Hall, president at Vitamin T, offered Inc. an example from her own experience.
“My zombie actually showed up to our morning meetings basically in her pajamas. She wasn’t quite in her pajamas, but she looked very casual. She slumped down in her seat. She sat at her desk and put on her headphones. Our zombie was a quiet zombie,” Hall says. “She didn’t go and rage on people and eat their brains visibly, but she very much caused damage because every other person in the room was going, ‘Why can she do that and I can’t?’ So her damage was subtle but it was great. When we parted ways, there was a sigh of relief among the staff that they didn’t have to carry the weight anymore.”
(MORE: How the Rich Got Rich)
Plus, Hall adds, the threat posed by such zombie hires is even greater at smaller businesses. “Within a smaller environment, it’s a lot more visible more quickly, and often that person is going to have access to your clients more than in a larger environment where there may be layers between the individual producer and a client. The closer your zombie is to your client, the higher risk you have of losing a client,” she says.
If this description of the zombie threat sounds familiar and Vitamin T’s five-digit estimates of the costs of this sort of hire sound all too plausible, then Hall has a handful of tips to keep you from throwing away money on infectious office zombies.
Stop Selling, Start Interviewing
You’re probably spending too much time in interviews selling your company to candidates. “Hiring managers have a tendency to spend time selling someone on how great your company is, how great the opportunity is, how wonderful it is to work there, and not enough time asking real-world, situational questions,” says Hall. “If you can ask, ‘Tell me about a time when you were faced with this problem and how you solved it?’ then you actually get to see someone’s behavior and how they make choices.”
She also suggests that “the more people [a candidate] can meet, the more likely you’re going to get enough perspective that you can make a rounded decision.”
Embrace the Gig Economy
“Temp-to-hire is an incredible way to try someone out before you take on the full risk and cost of having them be an employee. Your commitment at the beginning is equal. They’re coming in to try out the job, and you are trying them out in a real-world setting where they are literally going to be able to integrate with your team or not,” suggests Hall, who adds: “it’s a beautiful time for that too.”
What does she mean? Hall reports that in her field, interest in and acceptance of freelancing is spiking. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in hiring managers who are using temp-to-hire. It’s truly been insane. In the first half of this year, we have received as many job opportunities that are temp-to-hire as we did in the entire year of 2011.”
What’s behind this upsurge in freelance-style opportunities? “It’s definitely because of budgets. People are less certain of how much money they have to spend and how long they’re going to get to spend it. Those things are definitely coming into play,” says Hall, “but I also believe there is a freelancer culture going on right now at all levels, and that’s causing people to be more open-minded about freelancing both from a hiring manager and from a candidate perspective.”
And don’t think temp-to-hire gigs are only for junior-level positions. A recent Harvard Business Review article titled “The Rise of the Supertemps” chronicled the growing popularity of short-term gigs for the top tiers of the business world.
“Supertemps are top managers and professionals — from lawyers to CFOs to consultants — who’ve been trained at top schools and companies and choose to pursue project-based careers independent of any major firm. They’re increasingly trusted by corporations to do mission-critical work that in the past would have been done by permanent employees or established outside firms,” write authors Jody Greenstone Miller and Matt Miller.
When it becomes apparent that there’s a zombie in your midst, “most hiring managers are reluctant to make a quick decision,” says Hall. “It’s so common for them to give a new person the benefit of the doubt: ‘O.K., well, they just haven’t learned our systems yet. O.K., well, they’re having trouble getting to know the team, and maybe I haven’t done enough to help them.’ People are likely to take a lot of blame when a person’s not working out early on.”
Avoid letting this guilt keeping your from making a move and sparing the rest of your team the frustration of working with a zombie and the threat of being infected with their bad attitude.
Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist.
Read more from Inc.com: