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How HR is Utilizing Human Energy Management to Fuel Performance

Updated: Jun 7


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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?


Disengagement.


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.


Some managers and employees check phones and emails long after work hours, preventing them from being fully present.


Friction, conflict and stress from home are energy drains that follow employees into the office— causing more stress and phone distractions.


HR can also help managers standardize communication channels (particularly for hybrid workers) to mitigate energy plunges from the frustrations and damaging trust issues related to phone tag and miscommunication.





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Strain and stressors zap energy

Although human energy wanes throughout the day without significant strains and stressors, stress is by far the largest energy consumer. Stress over meeting tight deadlines or negative work interactions can interrupt sleep. Sleep-deprived employees either don't show up on time, don't show up at their best or don't show up at all. Coffee helps, but it's a diuretic that dehydrates and contributes to fatigue (especially with added sugar). While caffeine offers short bursts of energy, it can also cause jitters and trigger anxiety. In addition, coffee does nothing to moderate frustrations and the stressors of strained relationships between teams, workers, managers, and employees, which are giant energy zappers. Not to throw coffee under the bus, but it disrupts employee workflow and causes more bathroom breaks.


HEM attends to the bad energy leaks between home and work. For instance, mothers and fathers strive to spend quality time with their families but often feel depleted of energy after work, which can trigger anxiety and resentment. Competing home and work demands often overwhelm employees, especially when a child is sick or departments are understaffed. HR HEM brings energy awareness to employees, helping them manage the stress of these demands to maintain precision focus.


Lack of energy and focus increases the time it takes to complete a task. That's bad news because it gives even less time to eat functional foods and take the breaks necessary to refuel and be productive. Many employees are caught in the hustle. They race to pick up their child from daycare or attend their baseball game. They eat fast food, suffer from sleep, headaches, and gastrointestinal disturbances, and work on an empty tank. The most common complaints are there's no time to eat healthy meals or energy to exercise. Yet, science shows that eating healthy, exercising and sleeping are the big three energy drivers for mental, physical and emotional health.


Nutrient-rich foods (and hydration) boost the immune system, reduce sick leave and lower insurance premiums. Companies that offer healthy choices and atmospheres find that their employees can power through a hectic workday without feeling enervated and sluggish.

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Supporting healthier choices at work can be seen as a corporate social responsibility effort and it's easy to implement since workers spend one-third of their lives at work.


Organizations that invest in healthy work cultures are reaping the cognitive performance benefits of a fully present energetic workforce. Managers who manage their energy have the capacity to lead with emotional intelligence and employees are more engaged and innovative.

Intrinsic Motivation and Energy


Beyond the transformative effects of walking and other energy-allied activities built into employees' daily routines, HR is zeroing in on relational energy and intrinsic motivation. HR is still focused on the growth and development of their managers and adding new strings to their bow, like creative job crafting and learning how to lead effectively. Their just doing it more efficiently through HEM.


Flattening the forgetting curve


No thanks to the forgetting curve, managers only retain 10 percent of their learnings from leadership training. To make matters worse, research shows that when "one part of the brain is engaged in stress, the other parts of the brain may not have much energy" to perform reasoning, attention, memory and other higher-order brain tasks.


Managers only retain 10% of leadership training.

Given the billions of dollars companies earmark for annual leadership training and the knowledge that managers account for 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement, HEM has become critical to an organization's profitability and cost savings.



Image credit: Microsoft Office 365 stock


HEM minimizes stressors to ensure employees and managers have the energy and concentration to learn, retain, and put into practice as much training as possible to gain the most business value from growth and development programs.


Job crafting, autonomy and self-directed employee roles

HEM equally focuses on employee capacity to develop competencies but is also preparing them for a more "self-directed" role at work to increase intrinsic energy.


Employees who have more autonomy and feel they are learning and progressing experience vitality, creativity and enthusiasm, which can improve job performance. HEM works to improve energy, so employees have the capacity to learn, engage and take advantage of opportunities. Job crafting, when possible, is one of those opportunities.


When managers allow employees to be active architects of their job their work carries more personal meaning.

Job crafting instills motivation and a sense of pride in one's work, which has an energizing and self-rewarding effect on goal attainment. Although not every job allows modification to its structure or how work is performed, managers can make work feel more purposeful by helping employees see how their work contributes to the value chain and ties to the end product or service.


LMX and Relational Energy


If companies can find transformational leaders also known as, moral change agents - that's OUTSTANDING! Until then, HR is leaning on managers to practice leader-member exchange (LMX) and participative goal-setting. LMX allows employees to help in annual goal setting, which gives them a personal interest in the outcome, increasing purpose and work momentum.


Relational energy occurs through LMX relationships. When managers mentor and support career development, employees usually feel compelled to return the generosity. However, the goal is to create long-term relationships rather than reciprocity or (favor for a favor). Exerting effort out of obligation differs from possessing the energy, will, and cognition to develop.


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Research shows that employees who act of their own volition in their daily activities rather than being compelled by others manifest more positive attitudes, aliveness and energy toward work. Companies found these same energetic effects by creating opportunities for employees to connect with others. Some create relational energy through volunteer work and other social events that interest employees. Giving back to the greater good fuels the energizing impacts of social connection and belonging, creating an uplifting effect.


One company formed a small committee that books Vitality T20 Cricket Match Sponsorship packages in the summer and skiing trips during the winter to bring people together and create a shared reality. Since these activities were consistent with employee preferences, they resulted in feelings of renewal and optimism.


Employees thrive when they have an outlet to unwind, de-stress and build relationships. And they will strive to re-create those experiences and engage in activities that ultimately increase mental, physical and emotional energy.


On the other hand, command and control deplete the very energy employees need to tackle their work with zest. Given their influence, controlling managers and micromanagers need de-stressing and re-energizing the most. Lower stress levels mean lower employee complaints, conflict, and turnover. HR professionals know this better than anyone.


Now that people analytics can provide keener insights, HR is fine-tuning its KPIs to improve positive energy through trust, respect and empathy between managers and employees. They've found that when managers trust employees to handle tasks, employees feel valued, increasing their self-esteem and the physical, intellectual, and emotional energy they have to invest in discretionary effort. Interrelational energy can be self-generating because humans synchronize to each other's "emotional rhythms," releasing hormones that can create energy.


When employees have energy, they feel awake and alive. They are able to regulate strains and stressors, freeing up energy to focus on work and give that extra oomph.


Human Energy Management is a science-based approach to optimal performance and organizational effectiveness. HR can adopt HEM by mitigating stressors and conserving, cultivating and directing employee energy. This can be accomplished through nutrition, exercise, ergonomics, nature, ambiance, job crafting, LMX leadership, growth and development, and activities that foster purpose, meaning and belonging at work.


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