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  • Writer's pictureChristine Alexy

How HR is Utilizing Human Energy Management to Fuel Performance

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

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Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks. -Warren Buffett

Human Energy Management (HEM) is emerging as the most influential performance driver in modern business. Energized employees bring vigor, brainpower, and creativity to their jobs. Charged and immersed in their work, they can power through the day with fervid focus, performing to their fullest potential.

On the other hand, unenergized employees putter and plod through the day performing poorly. What is usually blamed for this widespread underperformance?


Gallup found that 66% of workers were disengaged in the second half of 2021. While the pandemic contributed to attrition and low engagement, studies show that disengagement was a problem even before the Great Recession and continues to be a costly problem for most organizations today.

For decades companies have resorted to monetary perks and other tactics to engage employees—essentially devoting energy to patching leaks. They focus on recognition, retooling of rewards systems, and training and development but have little to show. Why then do many employees still do the bare minimum?

Two words: no energy.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with those engagement efforts, it's just the capacity needed to carry them out. The root problem surfaces by breaking down the hierarchical stages of disengagement.

  • Stage 1: Subpar performance and overt behavior. Employees may habitually show up late, leave early, or skive off. They may also fail to reach goals and deadlines, produce shoddy work, or make more mistakes.

  • Stage 2: Includes clashing with co-workers, passivity, or withdrawing from people and participation in meetings and activities.

  • Stage 3: Is less evident unless an employee is under a microscope lens. It may include irritability, pessimism, complaining, poor attitude, and lack of motivation.

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Looking closer, we can see employee slog, disengagement, failure to perform sufficiently, and poor drive are rooted in energy deficiencies. Money, praise, and rewards are helpful carrot and stick tactics, but they are—short-lived energy shots with a transactional sting.

Most large companies invest in initiatives like developing employees' knowledge, skills and abilities to improve engagement. Yet, despite these efforts being in the top five global business strategies and purported as primary employee desires, they often fall short. Why?

Because corporations fail to acknowledge, build and sustain employee capacity—human energy—the one thing needed to fuel learning and cognitive processes—the one thing that is taken most for granted.

The majority of measures organizations take to increase employee engagement and performance barely scratch the surface of the hierarchy. They typically apply one-on-one interventions to retrain or reassign low performers. But by that point, they are in reactionary mode and have failed to identify the underlying energy interference and damaging morale effects that have infected others.

HEM is a culture shift from traditional management strategies. It's a holistic and humanistic approach to performance that proactively considers employee energy in both work and life demands.

When stress accumulates, it does more than tire employees and make them short-tempered; it leads to emotional exhaustion and energy depletion (the triple E or EEE), which causes emotional, physical and mental health problems.

EEE symptoms

  • Low commitment, more absences, failure to meet deadlines

  • Anger, short-temper, poor judgment

  • Upset stomach, digestive problems, muscle pain, headaches

  • Low immune system, frequent colds

  • Memory, recall, retention

  • Apathy, lack of motivation, working slowly

  • Cynicism, pessimism, sarcasm

  • Fatigue, anxiety, depression

  • Brain fog, inability to focus, sleep disorders

Lack of energy also leads to avoidance, procrastination, and the inability to concentrate.

HR employs HEM to minimize these costly problems, and increase energy, engagement and work quality.

Human Energy Management advances the idea of working smarter, not harder. While HEM HR considers basic employee skills like time management, they also seek to understand the underlying energy that employees must possess to plan and divide time between tasks.

HEM allows HR to measure and influence the focus, attention, and energy an employee can actually give to that task mentally, physically, and emotionally to achieve optimal performance.

What is Human Energy Management?

Human energy is the capacity to exert physical and mental effort. Think of it as the life force that propels a person to act.

Energy drives behavior and can derive from various sources, but it is a finite resource that needs replenishment.

HEM aims for high-octane performance where employees operate on all 16 cylinders. It entails understanding the factors that increase and decrease employee energy and developing solutions that sustain the highest level of productivity without employee burn-out or EEE.

HEM: a new approach to traditional methods of managing people

Time management is futile if managers and employees lack the energy to focus, resolve problems quickly and accurately, and regulate their emotions and stress levels. Employee stress has a radiating effect that often cascades across organizations. Low energy impacts productivity, work relationships, customer service, and other stakeholders.

Energy is the fuel needed to regulate stress, think coherently, process information, and maintain self-control. Overstretched, sleep-deprived, dodgy bosses can become impatient, controlling, and unhinged, placing stress and burden on employees that waste their energy. HEM works to conserve and direct energy to executive cognitive functions like motivation, problem-solving, planning, prioritizing, and successfully balancing multiple tasks.

Implementing HEM to conserve and increase employee energy through environmental factors and positive manager-worker interactions

Research shows that organizations have been over-focused on increasing motivation and engagement through extrinsic motivators like monetary rewards and under-focused on the energy needed to preserve and grow intrinsic motivation.

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HEM seeks to spark the spirit, stamina, and passion workers bring aboard on their first workday.

Today's demanding work roles can dampen that enthusiasm. Increased pressure and stress, decrease energy and motivation and create a cycle of disengagement. Unfortunately, work demands are here to stay. The good news is HEM manages the stress and the fatigue it causes.

Part of HEM is the awareness that emotional exhaustion and energy depletion do not recede at the end of the business day. It spills over and has a ripple effect, disrupting a worker's personal life, and widening the energy deficit at work.

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It’s not rocket science!

Stress also causes sleep deprivation, resulting in brain fog and low energy that interferes with employee cognition, memory and concentration. This is why training and development and other engagement initiatives are mostly ineffective.

HEM manages influences that cause energy drains. At its core, it seeks to conserve and increase energy to heighten employee clarity, vigor and liveliness toward their work over a long period.

How Can HEM Improve Employee Energy?

Sustainable human energy is not about ten cups of Joe or a Red Bull to keep eyeballs open. It is rooted in positive psychology and cultivating an environment conducive to harnessing employee energy through aspects of health, wellness and work. While companies are ramping up efforts to promote healthy choices, they are also using people analytics to define the needs of their employees.

Energizing Environments via HEM Culture

Companies are championing HEM as they realize its benefits on employee performance.

Organizations are renovating their workplace and culture. Instead of throwing a ping pong table into a back-office space (that workers are frowned upon for using), they are institutionalizing twenty-minute respite breaks so employees can recoup from stress fatigue and revitalize their energy.

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Since employee energy levels can be measured, HR is able to design policies and atmospheres that ensure their employees are more energized, alert, and focused. Some companies have already taken steps toward a HEM environment. They supply everything from hybrid working to nutritional snacks in vending machines. Others are encouraging naps, promoting walk breaks, adding live plants to the decor, and co-creating community spaces, with open window blinds and natural scenery and light.

Companies can also upgrade to ergonomic fixtures and standing desks to decrease pain and discomfort and increase energized workflow. Many organizations offer health insurance plans that cover complementary alternative medicine therapies and discount or subsidize gym, yoga and meditation memberships.

The more HR can diffuse stress, the more energy they can conserve energy and increase clarity and blood flow for high functioning cognitive performance. Implementing a few of these is a start, but companies should do more than add healthy vending options and open blinds.

Workplaces with more greenery and views of nature increase employee job satisfaction and transfer positive feelings about colleagues and their work, lowering stress and intentions to quit.

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Whether walking, jogging or just changing scenery, those who spend time outdoors return

to the office more focused, attentive, and engaged.

Nature's stimulating effects inspire and restore energy. Physicians say exposure to sunlight improves energy and elevates mood.

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When employers provide and promote access to outdoor areas, employees are better able to direct attention to their tasks when they return to their desks, producing higher quality work in less time.

While HEM is not about turning workplaces into luxury retreats, some corporations are redesigning their buildings with floor-to-ceiling glass to improve mental acuity with natural light.

While dispersing natural light throughout the office space is not always possible, companies can swap out fluorescent lights for LED smart technology to replicate sunlight. Because it's programmable, companies can use cooler blue light in brainstorming rooms to invigorate employees and promote idea sharing, warm tones in meetings rooms to emit calmness and trust, and middle tones in conference rooms to keep employees alert. Smart lighting is also energy efficient. It can be timed to gradually change throughout the day like the sun and dim if no activity is detected.

Other companies provide onsite amenities like bikes, massage therapists and behavioral health counselors. On a smaller yet important scale, HR can develop explicit policies such as no phones during meetings or institute a no-meeting zone between 8 and 9 am. The former so employees can focus on the meeting, the latter so they can plan their day without disruption and undue stress.

Overall, energy-boosting accommodations lower stress, enhance employee experiences and improve performance.

Human Energy Management Best Practices

Some HR professionals are leaps and bounds ahead in HEM. They recognize the costs of energy depletion and its consequences such as employee absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover, and have taken steps to reduce them through HEM.

HEM HR also addresses the energy impacts transferred between work-life and home life and the contagion effect energy (and lack of energy) has on teams. Symptoms like cynicism can sweep through an organization like dominos. On a brighter note, optimism works the same way. Organizations that quantify and measure human energy have been able to overhaul their approach and manage its depletion throughout the company.

Decrease stress and conserve human energy among onsite and hybrid workers

HR is creating HEM best practices to decrease stress and conserve energy among onsite and hybrid workers. As widely known, anytime the mind hears, sees and thinks, it uses precious energy. Messy workstations and cluttered computer desktops may seem trivial but disorganization wastes energy. Repetitive phone and email checking also draw energy.

Companies may not want to shrug off these common interruptions because they are large energy levies. Studies show office workers, on average, are interrupted every 10 minutes, and it takes 30 minutes to refocus and get back on track.

It takes 30 minutes to refocus and get back on track.

To support the HEM initiative on an ongoing basis, HR should integrate it into their EVP and leadership development programs and send monthly tips about its benefits.

Monthly tips might include the importance of an organized workspace and specific times to check emails in bulk instead of wasting energy and focus while shifting between tasks.