How to Replenish Your Energy at Work? Hint: It´s Not the Caffeine

Man_Cookie_kleinMost of us know these days: You´re rushing from one meeting to another, squeezing in those important calls with the tax consultant and your child´s class teacher – while desperately trying to finish that presentation for your boss which is due at 06:00 pm. This is what days at the office look like for a lot of who earn their money as so-called knowledge workers.

To make it through days like this (and perform well!), maintaining a high level of subjective energy is paramount. In the words of Jane Dutton (Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business), human energy is the “fuel” that helps organizations run successfully. Here, an interesting question arises: How do people manage – and in the case of depletion – replenish their energy while still at the office?

This issue was addressed in a paper by researchers Charlotte Fritz, Chak Fu Lam, and Gretchen Spreitzer via an article in “Academy of Management Perspectives” from 2011. In order to do so, they surveyed 214 knowledge workers across all hierarchical levels on their subjective levels of energy (separate for presence and depletion of vitality) throughout their work days – and additionally assessed what kind of (micro-)strategies these people employ to maintain their energetic balance – and how often they use certain strategies compared to others.  Here´s the key takeaway:

When trying to recharge at work, most people get it wrong most of the time!

Among the most frequently used micro-strategies to recharge were:

  • drinking water or coffee, or having a snack;
  • checking e-mails, switching to another task, or making a to-do list;
  • surfing the net or talking to a colleague about non-work issues (e.g., sports).

In the study, none of these behaviors was associated with a heightened energy level, and some were actually connected to further depletion. Instinctively, many people seem to resort to strategies that shift their attention away from the current task. Yet, the scholars show this may be a severe case of looking in the wrong direction. Those energy management strategies found to be most positively related to vitality are:

  1. learning something new;
  2. focusing on what provides joy in work;
  3. setting a new goal;
  4. doing something that will make a colleague happy;
  5. make time to show gratitude to a colleague;
  6. seeking feedback;
  7. reflecting on how to make a difference at work;
  8. reflecting on the meaning of one´s work.

It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

In a nutshell, all of these strategies are work-related and reflect notions of learning, relationships, and meaning at work. Accordingly, the key to fill your batteries while at work may be to see your job with different eyes without taking your mind off the tasks at hand. It´s a mental, or sometimes, emotional shift that breeds success.

By the way: The only functional non-job-related strategy in the study was taking time to meditate. What about micro-strategies like taking a short nap or going for a walk? Fritz et al. found that these activities were related neither to the presence nor the depletion of energy – they just didn´t matter all that much. The researchers conclude that these strategies may have more potent effects as sources of recovery while being away from work, e.g., during evenings or weekends.

Positive Psychology News Digest on Mappalicious | No. 21/2016

My favorite pieces covering Positive Psychology and adjacent from (roughly) the last seven days.

Edge: Misunderstanding Positive Emotion by June Gruber

Scientific American: A Self-Improvement Secret: Work on Strengths by Lauren Howe

NPR: MacArthur ‘Genius’ Angela Duckworth Responds To A New Critique Of Grit by Anya Kamenetz

Smithsonian: If grit breeds success, how can I get grittier? by Emily Matchar

Psych Central: When Grit Falls Short by Robert McGrath

Huffington Post: A Quick Daily Writing Practice That’s Proven to Make You Happier by Izzy McRae

Quartz: Scarcity mindset is a great way to suck creativity and visionary thinking out of your life by Camille Ricketts

Guardian: Money can’t buy happiness? That’s just wishful thinking by Ruth Whippman

Fulfillment Daily: The Rise of toxic Leaders and what to do about it by Ray Williams

Center for Positive Organizations: Logitech named winner of 2016 Positive Business Project, no author

Center for Positive Organizations: Time to overcome your skepticism – Positive business is the future of capitalism, no author

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Your first and foremost Job as a Leader is… Peter Drucker​ on Positive Organizations

I guess it must be really hard to be a management guru these days. No matter what you say, no matter how brilliant you are – there’s a very high probability that somebody will already have laid out what your core message is. And with “somebody”, I don’t refer to a lot of people, I’m just talking about one person: Peter Drucker.

If you visit, e.g., his notable quotes on GoodReads, you’ll find that he was an incredibly smart thinker – and the he basically laid out all the principles of modern (and in some instances: post-modern) management (in the best sense of the word…). And he did all of that mostly during the 1950s and 60s!

Last week, I stumbled upon a quote that gives rise to the assumption Peter Drucker was also able to foresee some of the developments in Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), e.g.,  Jane Dutton’s concept of High-Quality Connections, or Kim Cameron’s idea of leading by managing Organizational Energy.

Here are some additional quotes alluding to the rise of Positive Organizations:

Peter Drucker on Positive Deviance and High-Quality Connections

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.

—–

The work relationship has to be based on mutual respect. Psychological despotism is basically contemptuous—far more contemptuous than the traditional Theory X. It does not assume that people are lazy and resist work, but it assumes that the manager is healthy while everybody else is sick. It assumes that the manager is strong while everybody else is weak. It assumes that the manager knows while everybody else is ignorant. It assumes that the manager is right, whereas everybody else is stupid. These are the assumptions of foolish arrogance.

—–

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.

Peter Drucker on Strength Orientation

A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.

—–

We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a knowledge workers should not take on work, jobs and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.

—–

A man should never be appointed to a managerial position if his vision focuses on people’s weaknesses rather than on their strengths. The man who always knows exactly what people cannot do, but never sees anything they can do, will undermine the spirit of his organization.

Peter Drucker on Purpose

An organization is not, like an animal, an end in itself, and successful by the mere act of perpetuating the species. An organization is an organ of society and fulfills itself by the contribution it makes to the outside environment.

—–

Only a clear, focused, and common mission can hold the organization together and enable it to produce results.

Peter Drucker on Self-Knowledge and the Growth Mindset

Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves – their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.

—–

People in general, and knowledge workers in particular, grow according to the demands they make on themselves. They grow according to what they consider to be achievement and attainment. If they demand little of themselves, they will remain stunted. If they demand a good deal of themselves, they will grow to giant stature—without any more effort than is expended by the nonachievers.

A Positive Approach to Organizational Tensions

Pos_Org_QuinnI know I probably should be talking about Adam Grant´s Originals (I did…) or Angela Duckworth´s Grit (I will…) these days, but instead, today, I´d like to point you towards another superb book: The Positive Organization by Robert Quinn.

Robert is professor at the University of Michigan and serves on the faculty of Organization and Management at the Ross Business School. He is one of the co-founders and of the Center for Positive Organizations and author several bestsellers on management.

Description of the book (taken from the book´s wrapper):

The problem is that leaders are following a negative and constraining “mental map” that insists organizations must be rigid, top-down hierarchies and that the people in them are driven mainly by self-interest and fear. But leaders can adopt a different mental map, one where organizations are networks of fluid, evolving relationships and where people are motivated by a desire to grow, learn, and serve a larger goal. Using dozens of memorable stories, Quinn describes specific actions leaders can take to facilitate the emergence of this organizational culture—helping people gain a sense of purpose, engage in authentic conversations, see new possibilities, and sacrifice for the common good.

The book includes the Positive Organization Generator, a tool that provides 100 real-life practices from positive organizations and helps you reinvent them to fit your specific needs. With the POG you can identify and implement the practices that will have the greatest impact on your organization.

For me, the most intriguing part of the book is Quinn´s proposition to see organizations not as more or less static entities, but rather as a systems of tensions. This figure provides a nice overview:

Quinn_Org_Tensions.png

The remainder of the book is equally valuable. If you´re looking for management book that is based on solid science (Positive Organizational Scholarship) and yet offers jargon-free language and actionable ideas, “The Positive Organization” is for you.

Paying it Forward: On Generalized Reciprocity

Gluecksschweine_kleinWhat is the “paying it forward”-principle?

Basically, it´s the opposite of “paying it back”. Most theories about human nature assume that we are a pretty selfish bunch. We´re supposed to play the “tit for tat”-game – which roughly means “I rub your back, so you rub mine”. More generalized: We´re nice to people that have been nice to us – and vice-versa. Another, slightly less selfish version is: I´m nice to you because you´ve nice to someone I´m affiliated with.

Paying it forward runs counter to this intuition. In practical terms, it means, e.g., paying a coffee for a person you don´t no at all, just by leaving money at the counter and instructing the barista to tell the next customer that her tall decaf white soya moccacino has already been taken care of. Ideally, this will put the person in good/grateful mood which makes it more likely that this person will be nice to others in return, thereby creating a ripple effect of reciprocity (please have a look at this really cool video to have a glimpse at what this could look like).

In scientific terms, this process is called generalized reciprocity. Accordingly, we´re not being nice to someone specific, but rather to “the public” – because this general entity has been nice to us. If you want to see how far this principle can go, please watch Prof. Wayne E. Baker´s TEDx talk on this topic. Among other things, he talks about a long-lasting chain of kidney donations, where people gave a kidney to complete strangers – as a result of feeling gratitude because another stranger had donated a kidney to someone in their families.

Now, those scientists who think we´re a selfish bunch believe that people use the “pay it forward”-principle mainly for non-altruistic reasons, e.g., to create a favorable image vis-à-vis other relevant people. And while this may partly be true, it´s not the end of the story.

Together wit a colleague, the aforementioned Prof. Baker published a paper by the name of Paying It Forward vs. Rewarding Reputation: Mechanisms of Generalized Reciprocity. In an organizational setting, the researchers are able to show that people do engage in both types of behaviors: Helping other and then hoping that those who have witnessed the positive behavior will be helpful in return (rewarding reputation) – and the unconditional, more general type where we help people “just because”. They also find that the generalized reciprocity creates stronger ripple effects in the long run (here’s a nice summary of the paper).

In the words of the researchers:

We conduct the first-ever critical test of two key mechanisms: paying it forward and rewarding reputation. These are fundamentally different grammars of organizing, either of which could sustain a system of generalized reciprocity. In an organization, paying it forward is a type of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) that occurs when members of an organization help third parties because they themselves were helped. Rewarding reputation is a type of OCB that occurs when peers monitor one another, helping those who help others and refusing to help those who do not. Using behavioral data collected from members of two organizational groups over a three-month period, we found that reputational effects were strongest in the short term but decayed thereafter. Paying it forward had stronger and more lasting effects.

Ain’t that nice… 🙂

Positive Psychology News Digest on Mappalicious | No. 14/2016

My favorite pieces covering Positive Psychology and adjacent from (roughly) the last seven days:

Center for Positive Organizations: Understanding positive business: Learning how to lead by Sue Ashford


Economist: Your employees wish you were emotionally intelligent by Natalie Baker


Center for Positive Organizations: Respectful engagement cultivates higher levels of creativity by Jane Dutton et al.


Psychology Today: The Shortcut to Finding Pleasure from Pain by Todd Kashdan


Huffington Post (Lifestyle): Simplicity, Free Time and Pursuing Your Passions by Taylor Kreiss


The Positive Organization: The Power of Self-Change via Robert Quinn


Vox: How scientists fell in and out of love with the hormone oxytocin by Brian Resnick


New York Times: The Keys to Happiness by Victoria Shannon


Forbes: Living Life With Renewed Energy: The Purpose Of Purpose by Brett Steenbarger


Huffington Post: 6 Quick Steps for Finding Your Company’s Authentic Purpose by Vic Strecher

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