Energy at work

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Byrne dean exists to help create kinder, fairer, more productive workplaces.  Focussing on the last of these, I recently came across some research conducted jointly by The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review  It is not new – it was first published in 2014 – but resonates just as strongly today. 

Building on a range of different thinking about the challenges and opportunities in the modern workplace, it develops the idea of focussing on the energy employees bring to work – that the best indicator of productivity is not how much time people invest but the amount and quality of the energy that they bring to whatever they do.  The research reports compelling data in terms of a number of key business performance indicators including engagement, employee loyalty and retention, focus and, crucially, the sustainability of these.  Energy, according to the report, is based on four core energy needs – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  While impressive gains can be achieved by organisations focussing on any one of these, the best results come from looking at all four.  

In terms of physical energy, the research stresses the cruciality of time to rest and renew, outside and inside the working day.  Emotional energy comes from feeling cared for and valued, mental energy from being empowered to set boundaries and to focus in an absorbed way, and spiritual energy from finding a sense of meaning and purpose in one’s work.  Some of this, at least, may sound like a restatement of other ideas – this four areas clearly overlap with research on engagement for example – but I think they go further.  The idea of “energy” is also a helpful term to think about.  We can picture the sort of employee we want (and want to be), who comes in full of enthusiasm and ideas, is able to focus, knows what s/he is doing and why, that inspires others and is a joy and a stimulus to be around.  They have energy – not (solely) in a physical sense but across all four of these areas – which drives them but also energises and sparks others.

In terms of what helped drive each of the core areas of energy the research found the following:

Physical – Human beings pulse, they go through cycles of work and rest, and critical to this is the ability to renew, through adequate sleep, daytime rest, physical fitness and good nutrition.  Employees who took a break every 90 minutes had a 40% increased ability to think creatively and 28% better focus.

Emotional – How people feel is critical to how they act, how they perform.  The research found that a feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction, and a sense of safety and trust were the key emotions to drive productivity.  Feeling satisfied with one’s job was found to increase engagement by 125% and focus by 54%.

Mental – The demands on our brains have never been greater than in our current information overloaded 24/7 working lives.  Being able to focus on single tasks and being empowered to prioritise tasks were found to be critical.  Greatest levels of focus showed a 29% increase in engagement.

Spiritual – Understanding and being connected to the organisation’s mission provides a critical sense of purpose and meaning.  Gaining a sense of meaning from work was associated with a 93% increase in engagement and 177% greater likelihood to stay with the organisation.

Like a lot of thinking in this area, much of this may feel like a new way of looking at old ideas, but a new lens, and a new vocabulary can often provide a new way of thinking, and a new impetus.  Energy feels like something with which we can all connect.

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