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.

Organizational Energy: A Whole-System Approach

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the concept of relational energy, the idea that energy is generated via positive interactions between an organization´s members – resulting in a fully charged system.

Org_Energy_BruchToday, I´d like to introduce two other approaches that aim at assessing organizational energy. In both, St. Gallen-based (Switzerland) Prof. Heike Bruch plays a major role.

In an article Bruch co-authored with Sumantra Ghoshal in the Sloan Management Review from 2003 based on several case-studies, she introduced the idea that an organization as a whole system can be described via a grid that describes the intensity and the quality of the present energy. In doing so, she also promoted the concept of “organizational burnout”, a state that may arise when an organization spends to much time in the upper left quadrant of the energy grid. I highly recommend reading the original article – as it also provides valuable ideas on how to shift an organization from one energetic state to an another (“Slaying the Dragon” and “Winning the Princess”)

In 2011, she followed up with this article: Energy at work: A measurement validation and linkage to unit effectiveness. This further explores the idea of “whole system energy” but tackles it from a more quantified point of view. The authors define

collective energy (henceforth productive energy) as affect, cognitive arousal, and agentic behavior among unit members in their joint pursuit of organizationally salient objectives.

One important notion is that the researchers view productive energy as having affective, cognitive, and behavioral components – so it´s not only about “feeling energized”:

Affective energy refers to members’ shared experience of positive feelings and emotional arousal due to their enthusiastic assessments of work‐related issues.

Cognitive energy refers to the shared intellectual processes that propel members to think constructively and persist in search of solutions to work‐related problems, including the mental faculties to focus attention, shut out distractions, and have a desire to make “good things” happen.

Behavioral energy reflects members’ joint efforts designed to benefit the organization; it encompasses the pace, intensity, and volume with which members purposefully invest physical resources.

 The other important distinction is the facet of emergence:

We take a multilevel position on energy, conceptualizing it as both an individual‐level and a collective‐level phenomenon. We, therefore, recognize the need to discuss the nature of its emergence or how the lower‐level parent construct (i.e., individual‐level energy) materializes to form a collective construct (i.e., productive energy).

Accordingly, the authored have used a questionnaire to assess individual energy, but used that data to additionally compute a collective energy level, e.g., that of the whole business unit, by aggregating the individual energy levels. Here are some of the items they used:

  • Affective dimension: People in my work group feel enthusiastic in their job.
  • Cognitive dimension: In my work group, there is a collective desire to make something happen.

  • Behavioral dimension: People in my work group often work extremely long hours without complaining.

After statistical analyses, the authors conclude that

productive energy appears to be an emergent phenomenon. That is, energy referenced at the unit level considers the context or social environment in which individuals work and is distinct from the attributes of those individuals.

In a separate study, they also find that

the productive energy of firms is positively associated with firm performance.

I´m really eager to see how this stream of literature will develop in the future – and how it might inform practical interventions, e.g., in the field of human resources development.

Relational Energy: Is your Organization fully charged? 

SONY DSCAre you fully charged right now? Do you feel energized? Full of zest? Or do you feel de-energized? Depleted? Run-down? Or maybe something in-between?

No matter what it is that you´re currently experiencing – it´s clear that humans tend to describe their condition in terms of energetic states. What is this energy? It is clear that we’re not talking about energy in a (strictly) physical sense. Yes, we may feel drained energetically because of a lack of food (especially carbohydrates), and definitely a lack of sleep – and we do feel recharged after eating or taking a nap. But with the kind of energy we´re talking about here, there´s more to it.

By way of example, taking a brisk walk after lunch can restore our energy and help us being more productive in the afternoon, even though a lot of physical energy is actually spent while moving.

Moreover, human energy feeds on interesting ideas, on passion, on having a goals, especially shared goals. Research shows the same activity can be energizing or de-energizing, depending on the question if that activity plays to our strengths – or if it autonomously regulated (by and large: intrinsically motivated) or externally regulated (forced upon us). A great of overview of different frameworks of human energy is given in: Quinn, R. W., Spreitzer, G. M., & Lam, C. F. (2012). Building a sustainable model of human energy in organizations: Exploring the critical role of resources. Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 337-396.

But most importantly, our energy feeds on interaction with other human beings – yet, it can be drained during that process as well.

Relational Energy

For a moment, think about a typical interaction with a colleague at work. Depending on the quality of that interaction, afterwards you might feel:

  • (a little) elevated/uplifted (= energized);
  • (a little) depleted/exhausted (= de-energized);
  • just as before (= unchanged).

In reality, depending on the quality of past experiences, this process might start well before the actual interaction, precisely when a person starts to think about having to meet with another person. I mean, honestly, how often do we say something along the lines of: “Oh gosh, I have a meeting with X tomorrow – I wish I could send someone else…”

This is the reason why a lot of companies start to adopt a “no-asshole-policy”: They adjust their hiring/firing processes in order to minimize the occurrence of “emotional black holes” among their employees, those people that suck up the energy of their colleagues, even when they are high-performers within their respective domain of work. The damage they cause to the organizational network by far outweighs their productivity in the long run (please check out: Cross, R., Baker, W., & Parker, A. (2003). What creates energy in organizations? MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4), 51-57).

Now, imagine how many encounters you have on an average day at work, be they short and fleeting (e.g., small talk at the water cooler) or extended and intensive (e.g., a day-long workshop). And now go on to imagine all the people in your company, and their encounters over a day, or a week, or a year.

With a large company, e.g., the one I work for (120.000 employees), we’re easily talking about more than a billion of those interactions per year. That’s more than one billion occasions to either charge or discharge the energy of that organization. Each energetic transaction may be minuscule, but together they form the most important asset of that organization (besides such aspects as the properties, machines, trademarks). Because here’s the thing (and you know this very well from your own life): The energetic state of each employee is connected to a lot of outcomes, such as work engagement, creativity, and satisfaction – and taken together, alles those interactions form a larger part of the organizational culture.

When we´re talking about “change”, usually we´re referring to big fluffy concepts: “change the culture”, or “change leadership”. But can we really work with those entities in real life? Isn’t it more advantageous to start with the little things, the day-to-day behavior? In order to do that, we´d have to be able to measure the nature of those interactions with regard to their “energetic quality”.

Such an attempt has now been made by a team of US-based researchers (Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 35-49). They define (positive) relational energy as

a heightened level of psychological resourcefulness generated from interpersonal interactions that enhances one’s capacity to do work.

The researchers propose a new scale for the measurement of this kind of energy from the vantage point of the recipient; these are two of the items they propose:

  • I feel invigorated when I interact with this person.
  • After interacting with this person I feel more energy to do my work.

Large companies usually go to great lengths in order to measure employee engagement, satisfaction, and related psychological states. Now imagine having each employee in an organization fill out a short questionnaire on the relational energy they’re getting out of interacting with their closest co-workers, managers, and subordinates. This, in turn, could be used to create a detailed “energetic map” of that organization, thereby identifying the energizers and the “black holes” along the way.

I imagine this could lead to a complete new, data-based paradigms in leadership development.

22 Positive Psychology-infused Articles every (HR) Leader should know

Positive Organizational ScholarshipPositive Psychology has a lot to offer for leaders, especially those people taking on a leadership role in human resources and people management. In this post, I´ve gathered 22 research articles infused by Positive Psychology (more specifically: Positive Organizational Scholarship) that, in my opinion, have tremendous value for aspiring as well as established managers and entrepreneurs.

The topics comprise desirable attributes and personality variables such as grit, character strengths, and core self-evaluations, how to create positive relationships at work, how employee motivation is created and sustained, how to find meaning and purpose in work, and several review articles, e.g., on the connection of positive emotions and job performance. Enjoy!

P.S.
This is my 300. post since I’ve started Mappalicious about two years ago. Giving myself a slight pat on the back right now…

With ordinary People to extraordinary Returns

Nico Rose - Handelsblatt Jahrestagung Private EquityA couple of weeks ago, I was invited to give a dinner speech at a private equity convention that was hosted by Handelsblatt, one of the most eminent (business) newspapers in Germany. I was a little surprised since – to be honest – I don’t know sh.t about private equity, mergers & acquisitions, etc.

So instead, I decided to talk about some subjects I do know, e.g., Positive Psychology, Self-Determination, and alternative forms of leadership.

Subsequent to my talk, I was invited to put into writing what I said that evening. The result is a feature that spans topics such as burnout, employee engagement, managing organizational energy, and the theory of the Kondratieff waves. My tagline was:

Extraordinary returns will be realized where ordinary people are empowered to achieve extraordinary results.

An English version of the piece is available available here. Enjoy!

Nico_Rose_FYB

Ready to push the Button? Instant Feedback for a Positive Work Culture

Today, I stumbled upon an article in The Wall Street Journal (Are You Happy at Work? Bosses Push Weekly Polls) that explains how some firms have adopted short weekly employee surveys/polls to measure workforce well-being, engagement, but also other work-related attitudes such as preferences for communication tools and software usage, among other things.

I find this highly interesting as receiving regular feedback, but also being able to provide feedback to bosses and the company as a whole seems to be a driver of well-being at work, and as a consequence, performance (especially among the younger part of our workforces). So basically everything that enables or facilities giving or receiving feedback could be a worthwhile investment.

This then reminded me of a photo that I took a the airport in Bergen/Norway when flying home from my TEDx talk in October.

Feedback Button - Bergen, Norway

It displays an easy-to-use feedback system that is installed right after the security controls. While walking by you can simply press one of the buttons to convey your opinion with regard to the quality of the control procedure. No pencil-and-paper, no log-in, just a short movement with your hands. You can even do that while carrying several bags.

How about having one of these gadgets at your office´s main entrance? It could be used to receive day-to-day feedback on your employee´s satisfaction, or based on the prompt, e.g. organizational energy. Quite obviously, a system like this will not tell you why a certain measure may go up or down, but this can be tackled using more sophisticated (and less frequent) feedback systems.

Are you ready to push the button?

Being your Best on the Job: The Case of Thriving at Work

A couple of days ago, I shared some videos where Kim Cameron elaborates on his ideas about organizational energy. Yesterday, I stumbled upon an adjacent concept that I find equally interesting: Thriving (at work). It was first described by a group of researchers comprising – among others – Gretchen Spreitzer and MAPP lecturers Jane Dutton and Adam Grant.

Striving is a seen as a two-dimensional construct. In short, we experience ourselves as striving when we feel a sense of a) vitality and b) learning. More precisely, vitality represents a sense that one is energized and has a zest for work. Learning, in turn, is signified by the acquisition and application of knowledge and skills to build capability and confidence.Together, these dimensions capture both the affective (vitality) and cognitive (learning) essence of the psychological experience of personal growth (Porath, Spreitzer, Gibson & Garnett, 2011).

There is some preliminary evidence that the experience of thriving as depicted above is significantly linked to favorable outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and even performance. In this paper, a questionnaire for the measurement of thriving is described. If you´re interested, please watch this short video of Gretchen Spreitzer describing the concept. Enjoy!