At the start of my career back in the early 1990’s we had assistants to book our flights, support staff to take care of documents, and when we went on business trips, upon return our colleagues would update us on what had happened in our absence. Fast-forward to today, and the picture is quite different. Everyone is self-supporting, multi-tasking, and connected 24/7.
In today’s economic environment individuals and team are under great pressure, expected to perform and meet ever more ambitious goals with the same (or, more often, shrinking) resources.
At the same time the advance of technology means that we are now constantly reachable, checking emails and messaging on multiple platforms, leading to an “always-wired” nervous system unable to relax and wind down.
This situation is clearly not sustainable – both managers and staff often feel overwhelmed and many are at a real risk of burnout.
What, then, would be the solution?
First we must realize that we cannot just spend energy, we also need to renew our energy. We need to stop treating ourselves as machines and start to see ourselves as whole human beings who need nourishment and care in more areas than just the physical body. By taking a holistic look at ourselves and our teams we will become more resilient, more resourceful, and much more productive in the long term.
As Tony Schwarz and Catherine McCarthy already suggested in their 2007 HBR article “Manage Your Energy Not Your Time”, there are four key areas of energy that need to be addressed:
- Physical: One’s physical health is not just a private matter – there are many bad habits in the workplace adversely affecting our physical energy levels. As a manager, you could consider standing or walking meetings to keep the energy up (a “sparring walk” instead of coaching conversation, or an “idea hike” instead of a brainstorming in the office, for example) – or at least make sure meetings don’t run over time, and take regular breaks. And why not get healthy fruits and nuts as your next meeting catering, instead of sugary pastries?
- Mental: Mental energy is all about focus. As a manager, be clear on the priorities of your team, review the priorities regularly and publicly, and help your people de-prioritize less important tasks – everything cannot be urgent and important! Allow your team members to concentrate on one thing at a time, and lead the way by insisting that in meetings people focus on the meeting (i.e. no devices on the table, mobiles switched off).
- Emotional: Positive energy leads to better ideas and higher productivity than negative or fearful energy. As a manager, be observant to frame things (for example, organizational changes) positively and draw people’s attention to the benefits and opportunities of new situations. Nothing depletes energy like a toxic complaint circle, especially when it’s focused on things outside your team’s circle of influence! Concentrate on what you can do, not what you can’t. Giving regular (public) praise to people or starting weekly meetings with a round of “good news” are simple ways to bring positive energy to the day.
- Spiritual: Spiritual energy comes from doing something for a larger purpose, and doing things that are aligned with your values. As a manager, give people context and remind them of the big picture and overall purpose of the organization. Get people into the “flow” by utilizing their talents in a manner that allows them to do things they excel in, and love to do.
Just like airlines announce in their safety demonstrations that we should first put on our own oxygen masks before helping others, we as managers must first take care of our own balance and well-being, in order to be able to show the way for our teams. There is a lot a manager can do to reduce stress and improve energy in a team, and even small changes in daily habits will have a big impact.
Hanna Summanen is an MCE Associate delivering programs in change management and team leadership. She is also a certified yoga teacher and owner of a popular yoga studio in Brussels.