Most 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:
- learning something new;
- focusing on what provides joy in work;
- setting a new goal;
- doing something that will make a colleague happy;
- make time to show gratitude to a colleague;
- seeking feedback;
- reflecting on how to make a difference at work;
- 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.