Learning to Love Work Again – It’s All About Employee Energy

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Jun 3, 2014

“How’s your energy level?” can sound a bit too new-age for the numbers-minded business world. Yet “energy” is one of the (if not the primary) indicators of performance, productivity and results in the workplace.

Tony Schwartz and his Energy Project are at the vanguard of this movement as illustrated in Sunday’s New York Times article Why You Hate Work (by Tony and Christine Porath) on the results of a study of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across companies and industries.

Overwhelmingly, the study showed employees are far more productive when four core needs are met (quoting):

  1. Physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work
  2. Emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions
  3. Mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done
  4. Spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

Meeting needs beyond the paycheck

Schwartz and Porath go on to comment:

The more effectively leaders and organizations support employees in meeting these core needs, the more likely the employees are to experience engagement, loyalty, job satisfaction and positive energy at work, and the lower their perceived levels of stress. When employees have one need met, compared with none, all of their performance variables improve. The more needs met, the more positive the impact.”

Meeting these needs goes far beyond the employee’s paycheck, their annual performance review, or even the annual bonus.

How much do you invest in “energy?”

The authors don’t recommend a specific amount or percentage of payroll to invest in energy efforts, but they do offer several ideas.

  1. Limit meetings to no more than 90 minutes.
  2. Set expectations for when and how quickly emails are addressed (so employee don’t feel compelled to answer within minutes an email received at 9:00 pm on Saturday, for example).
  3. Offer health and wellness options such as nap rooms, gyms, healthy food, etc.
  4. Reward the behaviors you want to see!

On that last point, Schwartz and Porath point out:

It also makes a big difference to explicitly reward leaders and managers who exhibit empathy, care and humility, and to hold them accountable for relying on anger or other demeaning emotions that may drive short-term results but also create a toxic climate of fear over time — with enormous costs.”

In this, as in anything else, you get what you pay for. If you want to increase employee energy and, consequently, long-term results, then you need to invest to free them from short-term thinking and excessive stress.

What’s the ROI?

This is usually the first question asked anytime an initiative such as this. For just two of the core needs defined by Schwartz and Porath, the ROI is rapid and significant (quoting):

  • Value: Feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67 percent more engaged.
  • Purpose: Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable in our survey. These employees also reported 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and they were 1.4 times more engaged at work.

We all know the ROI of lower turnover (anywhere from 50-200 percent of salary), and several studies point to the exponential ROI of increased employee engagement (Aon Hewitt’s is the most recent, showing 0.6 percent increase in sales growth for every percentage point increase in engagement). But how do help increase value and purpose?

Simply taking the time to recognize and appreciate employees for their efforts is the first step. But to help employees realize purpose in their work, taking just a few minutes more to give context to your recognition – to tell an employee how their efforts specifically helped achieve a bigger goal or mission – delivers even greater impact.

Where trust and appreciation will take you

What does this look like in the real world of business? Schwartz and Porath relate the below story from the CEO of multi-billion dollar chemical company, Albemarle:

Mr. [Luke] Kissam, the Albemarle chief executive Tony first met more than a year ago, has taken up the challenge for himself and his employees…. ‘I can already see it’s working,’ Mr. Kissam told us. ‘Our safety record has improved significantly this year, because our people are more focused. We’re trusting them to do their jobs rather than telling them what to do, and then we’re appreciating them for their efforts. We’re also on the right path financially. A year from now it’s going to show up in our profitability. I saw what happened when I invested more in myself, and now we’re seeing what happens when we invest in our employees.’”

The emphasis is mine in the above quotation. That one statement is the crux of meeting all four core needs – trusting employees to do the job, getting out of their way so they can do it, then expressing your appreciation for work well done.

What’s your energy level (take the handy quiz in this earlier article from Tony Schwartz to find out)? What can you do to improve your own energy levels? What can you do to remove the energy vampires for others?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

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