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Employee engagement factors: why energy creation must be in your strategy

Published 5th May 2017 by Investors in People
Relaxed, happy employee

Everyone’s been in that position, coming home from work, when they’re bored and want to do something but can’t be bothered to do anything. What’s happening here? This is an energy problem caused by the depletion of mental energy at work.

And it’s not just when we get home that it can become a problem. Low energy levels at work create a host of problems for organisations, as we’ll see below. Yet unfortunately, the modern workplace, with its fast-paced, technology-driven, frenetic pace is naturally inclined to zap energy levels unless we take action.

Employee engagement strategies that don’t put a strong focus on helping people build and sustain their energy levels are missing something so fundamental that corrective action should be taken as quickly as possible.

Why? Because without healthy energy levels, employees become closed off to anything the organisation does, which will render all your other efforts to engage and nurture them far less effective over time.

Four ways low energy could be sabotaging your organisation

By preventing collaboration

Collaboration is a very energy-intensive process when you break it down into its constituent parts: we must generate ideas, mould them to our goals, present them in a way others can understand, defend them or abandon them where necessary, offer and take criticism where appropriate and build on and re-shape abstract concepts to come to conclusions. Collaboration always works best when people are self-confident, full of energy and open to new ideas. Lethargy, poor concentration, irritability (all the hallmarks of low energy) are the enemies of effective collaboration.

By closing our minds

We are open to new ideas to a lesser or greater extent depending on how we feel. The classic example is one parent criticising the other when the children are misbehaving: you’re simply not in the right frame of mind to take feedback. In the workplace this can be dependent on a number of factors including the perceived respect we receive from others and our social status, but a key one is energy. Looking at ourselves in a different light is energy-intensive, as is changing our worldview, or even looking at a project in a different way. Unless we have the energy needed to do these things, we are more likely to resist feedback and also more likely to prioritise easy, sub-optimal ideas over harder, more optimal ones.

By encouraging laziness

Habits are an important part of being human: the simplest repetitive tasks would exhaust us if we weren’t able to automate them to some extent. But habit is the friend of the fatigued mind. Organisations must be innovative by design if they are to survive in a world where disruptive business models spring up daily. To challenge the status quo and find new ways of optimising in our individual roles are two ways employees can contribute to the organisation’s innovation efforts, but when we lack energy, it’s much easier just to do things the way we’ve always done them.

By encouraging consensus

When we don’t have the brainpower to effectively critique ideas, form our own opinions and generally think deeply about a problem, we find comfort in consensus, in agreeing with people, because this fits in with our need for social connection, which is always more urgent when we are low on energy. Groupthink is a dangerous state of affairs for organisations but if you bring together people with low energy and frazzled minds, this is the state of affairs you’re likely to move towards.

Employee engagement: how can you help people sustain and create energy?

  • Help them avoid multitasking: multitasking is a total myth but employees think it helps them be more productive. But it not only makes them less productive, it reduces energy throughout the day and leaves them feeling frazzled, fundamentally affecting their wellbeing on a professional and personal level
  • Exercise for the body: there’s evidence that exercise reduces fatigue and improves energy levels, so offering subsidised gym memberships or cycle to work schemes can help sustain energy over time
  • Exercise for the mind: energy levels can be very sensitive to levels of sensory stimulation, confrontation, intrusive thoughts and interpersonal contact. Mindfulness helps people co-exist with these things more peacefully and naturally, reducing the amount of energy that gets depleted over time
  • Tackle the technology in their lives: we use an enormous amount of technology at work and the constant switching between smartphones and computers and different tabs and phones depletes our mental strength. Taking practical steps to reduce the burden of email, for example, will help your staff maintain energy
  • Workplace design for the individual: everyone is different which means their energy levels sit differently naturally and are depleted at different degrees by different things. Fundamentally, one-size-fits-all strategies for anything are a bad idea, yet we all tend to work the same patterns, in the same places, as everyone else. People should design their work lives around their energy levels, rather than the other way round. For example, introverts that may get frazzled earlier on in the day could work from home for the final couple of hours. Or meetings could be moved to earlier in the day when everyone’s energy levels are higher.