Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. I came across a blog post he wrote on the Harvard Business Review site titled; Share This with Your CEO.
The Energy Project is a unique organization that helps companies to energize their workforce to improve employee engagement and business performance. This isn’t the “rah-rah” kind of stuff that causes employees to roll their eyes as they pass by posters in the office with generic slogans, or don buttons with pithy sayings.
The Energy Project offers a new value proposition. Rather than trying to get more out of people, their take is that employers are better served by meeting their employees’ multidimensional needs, so they become free, fueled, and motivated to bring more of themselves to work. In other words, addressing the needs of the whole person, rather than just the “worker.”
This isn’t new, of course. Companies, for decades, have understood the benefits of work/life balance and the improvements in engagement and productivity that can be gained by addressing, and accommodating a range of employee needs and situations. Even farmers know that happy cows produce more milk, or so we’ve been told.
However, today’s workers are now wrestling with a different kind of balance… a work/work balance. The energy-sapping, soul-sucking, engagement-crushing stuff isn’t limited to workloads that make us miss our kids’ soccer games, or forget an anniversary, or keep us out of the gym.
Now, the workday itself has become a multi-tasking, disjointed series of meetings and interruptions that make it nearly impossible for many to get anything accomplished while at work. Ask someone in your office if they think they could accomplish more by working from home – you know the answer.
As Schwartz puts it, “The answer is rooted in the false assumption that we operate best in the same linear way that our computers do: continuously, at high speeds, for long periods of time, running multiple programs at the same time. That’s unsustainable. When demand exceeds our capacity, we default into the survival zone. We’re suboptimal. It’s not good for us, and it’s not good for our employers.”
The proof? The Energy Project offers something called “The Energy Audit,” a way of assessing how well workers are managing their own energy. Recently, this audit was done with a live audience of about 160 senior executives from a large bank. Here is what was discovered:
- 77% said they had trouble focusing on one thing at a time, and felt easily distracted during the day.
- 80% said they take too little time to think strategically and creatively, and spend too much of their time reacting to immediate demands rather than focusing on activities with long-term value and higher leverage.
- 54% said they often feel impatient, frustrated or irritable at work, especially when demand gets high.
What is important to recognize here is that these are senior executives. Often we don’t think they operate in the same distracted, frustrated ways as the rest of us, but here we have organizational leaders admitting they are often forced to make short-sighted and ill-considered decisions.
According to Schwarz, these bankers are not a bunch of outliers. “Over the past three years, we’ve given the same audit to tens of thousands of leaders and managers across dozens of companies in multiple industries and the results have been remarkably consistent – and similar to the bankers above.”
Back in elementary school science, we all learned that energy is the capacity to do work. As many workers now face ever-rising demands on their time, driven by ubiquitous technology and the expectation of 24/7 responsiveness, it is no wonder that employees are routinely running out of gas on the job.
Further findings from the banker’s energy audit reveal some interesting correlations and point to behaviors that contribute to the energy shortage of your workforce:
- 82% reported they regularly get fewer than 7-8 hours of sleep and often wake up feeling tired.
- 70% don’t take regular breaks during the day to renew and refuel.
- 70% eat lunch at their desks, if they eat lunch at all.
- 65% don’t consistently work out.
- 68% said they don’t have enough time with their families and loved ones, and when they’re with them, they’re not always really with them.
- 71% take too little time for the activities they most deeply enjoy.
As I said, most organizations understand the benefits of balance, but few have done anything significant to change the culture or behaviors that would affect how energized, engaged, and committed employees really are. Have you instituted a policy of no after-hours emails to employees, or put a limit on meetings, or started closing up the office at 5:30 and demanding employees go home? Of course not.
So what is the impact, and what steps can you take to address this energy crisis in your organization? The Energy Project offers some great information, and suggestions:
1. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation — anything less than 8 hours — take a progressive toll on people’s ability to sustain attention, which is a sine qua non of both efficiency and quality at any given task.
Don’t allow, or at least discourage, early morning or late night calls or meetings.
2. Even with sufficient sleep, human beings aren’t designed to work for more than 90 minutes continuously at the highest level of focus. The more continuously we work without a break, the more we deplete our capacity to make rational, reflective decisions.
Normalize real renewal breaks, take them yourself, and encourage people to take them throughout the day. Bolder still, authorize afternoon naps, as a way to drive much higher performance in the subsequent several hours.
3. Eating high-energy foods at frequent intervals — lean proteins and complex carbohydrates at least every three hours — ensures access to a steady level of glucose, which is our most primary source of energy and capacity.
Subsidize healthy foods in cafeterias, provide healthy food at offsites, and encourage people to get out for lunch.
4. Working out is not simply a way to build endurance, strength and better health, it’s also a powerful form of mental and emotional renewal and therefore builds capacity across multiple energy dimensions.
Provide fitness facilities, at low cost or no cost, or subsidize outside gym memberships. Hold walking one-to-one meetings.
5. Time with loved ones, and for activities we deeply enjoy, are powerful sources of emotional renewal and fuel positive emotions. The better we feel, the better we perform.
Don’t email people at night or on weekends, and don’t expect them to email you. If it’s urgent, call them, so they don’t feel compelled to constantly check their digital devices.
6. Doing one thing at a time, in an absorbed way, is not only more efficient, but also leads to higher quality work.
Encourage your people to set aside times every day for uninterrupted focus — above all by doing the most important thing first every day for 60 to 90 minutes, and then taking a break.
HR, it is your job to help leaders understand the benefits of maintaining the energy supply of the workforce. It is not enough to say you value balance; you have to put some policies in place with real teeth that may be very difficult for business leaders – who are under constant pressure to perform – to intuitively understand.
HR, the time is now.
Anther infusion of knowledge…