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Survival of the fittest – Why you should be thinking about energy at work

Sheila ParrySheila Parry·

Anyone who has been running a business in the last decade will know that the onslaught of disruptive competition so far this century has coincided with one of the deepest recessions to hit the global economy, and economic recovery has been painfully slow.

It took five years, until the last quarter of 2013, for the UK economy to reach the levels of 2008 and a further two for GDP per head to return to pre-recession levels.

The result of the EU Referendum in 2016, the ongoing Brexit negotiations and the volatility around relations between global superpowers,  have added further to this decade of uncertainty for consumers and businesses alike.

Organizations that have survived have displayed various qualities, including leadership clarity and commitment, boldness, flexibility and a relentless attention to detail. In my experience as a supplier to some of the world’s largest companies and as an employer myself during these tough times, professional and personal resilience has been at a premium.

Whether in or out of work during this period, running a business or part of a team, one of the most common concerns for the average person has been how to protect professional and personal living standards, how to deliver more for less and how to maintain the energy to weather the financial storm.

These are tough challenges and they aren’t getting any easier. ‘Just about managing’ is an ugly phrase and an even uglier place to be.

Against this background, changing demographics and the irreversible trend for longer working lives is making energy a very personal issue. Commentators on the aging population in the UK and Western markets, tend to focus on its increasing drain on the economy and social services, yet is it also throwing up problems in the workplace.

In many sectors, employers are facing an imminent shortage of manpower, as, over the next 10 years there are more people retiring from the workforce than there are joining it. Current UK Government employment statistics claim that, by 2025, in the UK, there will be a deficit of 7 million people, impacting – among others – the engineering, retail, teaching, and healthcare sectors.

Isn’t it about time, then, that employers consider policies that will create highly energized workplaces that will enable people to work more healthily for longer? And, that we as individuals facing an occupational marathon of work, take a moment to learn how to recharge our batteries?

Whether you work alone, in a team, or you run your own business, the energy you create at work can make the difference between a good and a great performance and a passive and innovative culture. Your attitude and your behavior will enable and inspire others to increase their efforts, solve problems, overcome difficulties, or simply be better colleagues.

Energy at work exposes the truly interdependent nature of the working relationship. Creating a safe and stimulating environment will feed your employees’ energy. Their energy, in turn, will feed into your dynamic environment. Energy feeds and is fed by individual motivation, participation, performance, and resilience.  The more everyone puts in, the more they get out, and the greater the benefit for all.

So how do we go about it?

If we put ourselves in the mind of a customer for a moment, I guess we could all cite examples of shops, restaurants, holidays, even classrooms and clinics, where displays of positive energy has made an experience brilliant.  It may have been the place, or the people, or some attention to detail, but that is the result you are looking for, and creating it in your own workplace shouldn’t be left to chance.

From my observations of high-energy workplaces and high-performing cultures, I have come up with an energy plan that focuses on three areas – the body, mind, and soul – and will deliver a palpable buzz that is good for your organization and for the people that work there.

The Body: Physical environment and workplace culture

Your workplace should not only reflect your brand and support your external reputation but it should provide a positive environment that is conducive to employee performance. Start with the hygiene factors: lighting, layout, comfort, and safety, but then extend it to reflect aspects of a positive working culture, showing respect for individual working preferences as well as role-related needs.

Hi-tech innovation companies have a reputation for providing time and space for creative thought, mindfulness and even play. Not everyone needs a pool table or bring-your-dog to work days, but it would be beneficial to most companies to learn from the case studies available on opportunities to inspire people to achieve higher productivity or output.

Employees of Google and Apple, for example, not only have cool office spaces, but they have flexibility and choice about where and how they work, they are encouraged to move around, interact with others and not be tied to a specific desk or traditional meeting format.

They have processes and make time for conversations on goals and accountabilities within teams, they give and receive regular feedback from managers and peers, but they also have a high degree of personal autonomy. Energy comes with the freedom to show initiative and take risks.

Employee Wellbeing

Enlightened employers are not only thinking about the environment they create, they are also investing in the physical health and fitness of their employees who join them.

Of course, this is a two-way contract. Employees have a personal responsibility to maintain a level of fitness to be able to do their jobs.  But employers have a duty of care to protect the health of those who work for them, while they are at work.

Different working patterns cause different long-term health issues. Shift-working for example, shows a higher tendency towards poor diet, smoking, obesity and heart disease. The apparently privileged, highly paid category of globe-trotting international executives suffer burn-out and depression brought about by frequent long-haul air travel and constant connectivity.

But Wellbeing isn’t only a stick with which to beat employers. Evidence shows that organizations with smart wellbeing initiatives experience lower sickness rates, reduced employee turnover, higher productivity and employee engagement. What leaders in the field also submit, however, is that their employees are generally more resilient and more likely to be able to adapt to change.

The Mind: Mental health, open minds

Similar results have been found among companies who have been early adopters of mental health education programmes to improve stress management.

Academic, Lynda Gratton cites the advance of globalization as a factor that has extended people’s working day across time zones, thus draining people’s physical and emotional energy.

Although arguably an unstoppable reality of our 24/7 working world, there are various coping strategies to minimize the impact. Recognising that they live or die on the mental capability and agility of their workforce, many health organizations, for example, have introduced techniques such as mindfulness and meditation to their wellbeing programmes.

While reducing the negative impacts of stress, such as absenteeism, injury or loss of productivity, these businesses also report positive benefits such as improved concentration, decision-making, and team dynamics, with situations less likely to become inflamed.

Such behavior is infectious. It has been found that leaders who had been trained in mindfulness influenced the wellbeing of others, with employees reporting greater satisfaction of their psychological needs, less emotional exhaustion, better work-life balance and better performance ratings.

The soul: Inspirational leaders and emotional connection

Highly energetic cultures rely on influential individuals who can spark activity or thought-processes that inspire others to work together behind a common goal. Inspirational leaders tend to present a clear vision that is relevant and compelling but they don’t take all the decisions on their own.

Being inclusive and establishing processes to encourage co-creation of strategies inevitably spreads responsibility and accountability. But a team leader who shows confidence in people and lets them get on with the job stimulates personal motivation and a desire to succeed.

Good leaders have been described as those who are genuinely interested in people and have the ability to make them feel valued and special. To inspire followers, they need to be fully engaged in the moment of connection with others, completely focused on the current conversation or matter in hand, and demonstrate that they listen to and care about their teams.

The higher the emotional intelligence on display, the higher the energy factor amongst teams.

From personal experience, I believe it also works the other way, and as an agency head, I know I was frequently buoyed up by the infectious power of collective energy when other people took responsibility for generating new ideas or encouraged innovative thought.

To maintain an inspiring and energizing place of work takes a lot of individual and collective effort, and requires generous people who care about each other and relate to each other on a very human level.

The soul: Finding your own sources of inspiration

Having worked in the creative sector all my life, I (and my clients) have relied on my curiosity for new ideas, new influences, and new experiences, and so I need to feed it. I passionately believe an energetic workplace is one where people are given the freedom to learn, grow and seek inspiration from the outside world, as well as their peers.

Art, culture and travel will always be high on my agenda for finding inspiration and I thrive on making unexpected connections between people and concepts. I have also drawn personal energy and resilience by taking part in physical challenges that have taken me out of my comfort zone and exposed me to different people and places.

The first time I ever went camping, it was for 8 days in the Sahara and I loved it. I know from many people who have taken part in extra-curricular activities, such as marathons or treks, that they learn things about themselves, such as their physical and mental limits, and develop strategies to cope with new situations.

All of this is highly relevant to the demands of our working world and longer working life, and it makes us think differently too.

Making work work for you

I take the optimistic view that work has the potential to have a tremendously positive impact on an individual’s wellbeing. It can provide purpose, achievement, reward and a feeling of fulfillment.

People who are putting their skills to good use, mastering challenges and developing their talents, achieve great things. But feeding and maintaining the energy to perform for decades after decades takes effort and takes energy.

In conclusion, my belief is that to survive in a competitive world, organizations need to put multiple policies and robust structures in place that protect the physical, mental and spiritual well-being and energy of their people. And at the same time, individuals need to nourish their own energy, to look after their physical health, to adopt a positive attitude and actively and systematically seek inspiration.


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