According to research from Gallup, 17% of the U.S. workforce was “actively disengaged” in their workplace in September 2022. Gallup defines employee engagement as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in both their work and workplace” (Gallup, 2022). This reduced rate of engagement relates closely to the energy level of employees. If an employee is low on energy, they do not have the energy to be highly involved or engaged in their workplace. The Society of Human Resource Professionals stated in 2017 that “the U.S. workforce is rapidly being drained of energy” (Hirsch, 2017)—a statement that was made prior to COVID-19 and the variety of challenges that were introduced to the workplace thereafter. What is energy and how is it connected to engagement? How can we increase workforce energy to improve engagement, productivity, and workplace culture? Continue reading to find out.
What is energy?
The concept of energy has been given a variety of definitions. Notice all of these definitions relate to the ability to do something:
Oxford Languages: “The strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity”
Britannica: “Energy, in physics” is “the capacity for doing work”
Merriam-Webster: “Dynamic quality, the capacity of acting or being active, a usually positive spiritual force, vigorous exertion of power, effort…usable power”
Connecting energy and engagement
Without energy, the momentum toward goals in the workforce declines, productivity decreases, engagement decreases, coaching clients fail to achieve their goals, and progress towards self-improvement, learning, and/or development declines. Without energy, employees cannot be engaged and coaching clients cannot supply the personal efforts required to achieve their goals.
Consider also the trend of “quiet quitting.” Much like being “actively disengaged” as described by Gallup, these employees do just enough work to avoid being fired. As discussed in a previous insights article, Quiet Quitting: The Latest Red Flag in Employee Engagement, the causes of quiet quitting include reduced well-being (Gallup, 2022) and stress (Paige West). Both of these factors can influence the energy levels of employees, further establishing the link between low energy and low engagement in the workforce.
Reduced levels of energy in the workforce
The Society of Human Resource Professionals believes that the “U.S. workforce is rapidly being drained of energy” (Hirsch, 2017). It is important to note that this statement was made before the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic, global and political, inflation, and supply and demand challenges that business leaders and their employees faced thereafter.
According to a study from OnePoll, 59% of 2,000 survey respondents stated that “so much time at home during the pandemic permanently sapped them of energy.” 53% associated their low energy with “long work hours” and 52% blamed “staying inside too much.” 41% believe their “exhaustion is due to too much screen time” (Melore, 2021).
Furthermore, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 4th quarter of 2021 was marked by a sharp decline in “Labor Productivity (Output per Hour) for All Employed Persons” not in the farming industry (2022). While the trend from the 1950s to 2022 is generally positive, the localized drop in productivity in the post-pandemic workplace (Q3 2021) is noteworthy. According to an NPR report from October of 2022, “productivity is down 4.1% on an annualized basis, the biggest decline since the government started keeping track of the number back in 1948” (Smith, 2022).
How can we increase energy?
Physical activity and health
According to a research paper by Loy, Cameron, and O’Connor, published by the US Department of Health and Human Services (2019), there are three primary ways we can increase energy levels:
Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle
Engaging in physical activity
Investing in overall health (especially in terms of having appropriate dopamine levels)
Using these three general strategies, coaches, executives, business leaders, and others can increase their energy levels. For example, in order to avoid a sedentary lifestyle, business leaders can schedule a time for taking a walk outside or taking periodical breaks as needed to move, stretch, or relocate. Standing desks are also another way to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Engaging in physical activity such as exercise, hiking, walks, biking, and golfing are all ways to increase energy levels. Lastly investing in one’s overall health, specifically in reference to dopamine levels with the help of a medical professional.
Below we examine additional research and strategies for increasing energy of the workplace and of the individual.
Energy through relationships
In a research article from Owens, Baker, Sumpter, and Cameron, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, it was found that “relational energy is positively associated with employee job performance… through the mechanism of job engagement.” This research article examines the relationship between “relational energy” and “job performance” through four separate studies. Their goal was to clarify and elaborate on the “operationalization of energy derived from a relationship experience,” also known as “relational energy.”
In their research, they found that “relational energy explains why workplace interactions stimulate attitudinal and behavioral outcomes: they provide helpful psychological resources which can be allocated towards the doing of work” and that “these psychological resources enhance employees’ ability to be fully engaged in their work, leading to higher performance.” They explain that this increase in work performance, which can also be seen as an increase in energy, can also be applied to relational energy between employees and their employers/leaders of their organization.
They state that “leaders are cast in a novel, expansive role as energy brokers who may enhance follower work functioning” through “the provision of energy in addition to being information sources, extrinsic reward-brokers, or vision-givers. This adds to the leadership literature by identifying specific interpersonal effects that leaders can have on followers through the transfer of psychological resources.” However, they also note that the employees' or “follower perspectives” of a leader's behavior is a primary factor in determining whether or not an interaction is energizing (Owens et al., 2015). In summary, findings were as follows:
The energy of a workplace can be increased through the relationships an employer has with his/her employees.
Employer/employee relationships that are rich in “psychological resources” such as information, vision, and practical resources are a source of energy.
Leaders must know their employees/clients well enough to determine if their interactions with them are perceived as energizing.
Is the way I communicate with this coaching client, employee, or other individual contributing to, or taking away, from their energy level? How do I know this?
What resources am I providing to those I lead?
Is my workplace rich in relational energy or do my employees feel isolated?
Posture and the mind-body connection
Research from Peper and Lin (2012) studied the effects of posture and movement on the reported energy levels of 110 university students. They found that students who walked with a “slouched” posture reported decreased levels of energy, while those who were instructed to skip experienced a “significant increase in their subjective energy.” This research suggests that “the mind-body relationship is a two-way street” and that the movement of the body can affect the feelings of energy reported by an individual (Peper & Lin, 2012).
How do I feel when I sit up straight versus when I slouch? Which position gives me more energy, and which position do I habitually choose?
Is my office/desk/work environment helpful for my posture or do I need to make some changes?
Reframe the negative
In each episode of the Arete Coach Podcast, we ask guests about a “valuable failure” that has been a great lesson or learning for them. In doing so, we are asking guests to reframe a negative experience/failure into a positive learning experience. Research from Peper, Harvey, Lin, and Duvvuri from the Biofeedback journal indicates that reframing negative experiences through what they call the “Transforming Failure into Success approach” increases reported levels of energy and decreased levels of procrastination in student participants (2014). The students who completed the “transforming failure into success” intervention reported the following:
“I felt more empowered and that it gave me more energy”
“I felt more motivated to get things done”
“... my productivity significantly increased.”
In the discussion of their results, researchers state that one of the reasons that students experienced reduced procrastination, increased productivity, and increased energy levels, might be because “the exercise steers away from negative self-talk and self-blame and steers toward visualizing new strategies for achieving positive movement in pursuit of goals” (Peper et al., 2014). This research points to the power of reframing the negative and how a positive mindset can increase energy levels.
Does my mindset energize me or deplete my energy?
Am I more likely to be positive or negative in the face of challenges? Does this help or hinder me?
How can I change my perspective toward the positive?
Reduce stress levels
According to Harvard Health, “stress-induced emotions consume huge amounts of energy” (2020). Furthermore, a literary analysis from Stults-Kolehmainen & Sinha found that “the experience of stress impairs efforts to be physically active” (2014). This reduced physical activity and increased need for energy consumption indicate that high levels of stress can reduce the energy levels of individuals. While executive coaches are not mental health professionals, we can advocate positive forms of stress relief such as exercise, reframing negative thoughts, time management, self-care, and others. We can also refer to mental health professionals as necessary to help clients best manage their stress levels.
Am I stressed? If so, how does this influence my energy?
How do I de-stress? Is this something I need to invest more time into?
Is my workplace culture stressful? What is contributing to that and how can I change that?
Harvard Health also recommends “eating for energy.” They state that “eating foods with a low glycemic index—whose sugars are absorbed slowly—may help you avoid the lag in energy that typically occurs after eating quickly absorbed sugars or refined starches. Foods with a low glycemic index include whole grains, high-fiber vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils such as olive oil. In general, high-carbohydrate foods have the highest glycemic indexes. Proteins and fats have glycemic indexes that are close to zero” (2020).
How is my diet supporting my energy levels?
Am I eating a healthy diet in general?
What does my sugar intake look like generally? Is this helping me or holding me back?
According to Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center, getting outside and in the sun can “have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality” (Mead, 2008). Spending time outdoors (especially when paired with physical activity) can increase energy levels. Additionally, sunlight gives the body Vitamin D which has been shown to boost energy levels on a cellular level (Newcastle University, 2013).
How does spending time outside affect my energy levels?
How can I increase my time spent outdoors?
Do I spend most of my time indoors or outdoors?
What are some activities I can take outdoors?
Hydrate for energy
According to Harvard Health, “when you are low on fluids, your body may feel tired and weaker than usual. Consuming a sufficient amount of fluids in beverages and water-filled foods…will help replenish the water your body loses throughout the day” (2013). Additionally, dehydration has been reported “to occur in 17% to 28% of older adults in the United States” (Taylor & Jones, 2022; Weinberg & Minaker 1995). But how much water is necessary? According to the Mayo Clinic, “the average, health adult living in a temperate climate” needs “15.5 cups (3.9 liters) of fluids a day for me” and “about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women” with a note that “fluids” are any form of hydration from “water, other beverages and food”
How can I increase my water intake if needed?
Invest in your sleep schedule
In 2016, the CDC announced that “more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.” They state that adults ages 18-60 years old need 7 or more hours of sleep per night. Additionally, without the proper amount of high-quality sleep, individuals can feel unrested (CDC, 2022) and experience a “wide range of deleterious health consequences” (Institute of Medicine, 2006). Some of these health consequences include “increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke” (Institute of Medicine, 2006). By investing in the amount and quality of sleep obtained, we can increase our energy levels. Consider the tips below from the CDC on getting high-quality sleep:
“Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends”
Sleep in a “quiet, dark” and “relaxing” room at a “comfortable temperature”
“Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom”
“Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime”
“Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night” (CDC, 2022)
How much sleep do I get on average a night?
Do I feel rested in the morning?
How can I improve my quality of sleep?
What can I do to ensure that I am going to bed and waking up at the same time every day?
Take a break when needed
Research from Sianoja, Kinnunen, Bloom, Korpela, and Geurts in the Scandinavian Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology indicates that, “lunch breaks offer an important setting for internal recovery during working days and seem to relate to energy levels at work over time.” In their longitudinal year-long study, they found that the mental break from work during a lunch break was related to “successful lunchtime recovery” which was ultimately related to a “decrease in exhaustion and to an increase in vigor one year later” (Sianoja et al., 2016). By taking a break during the workday, we can increase our energy levels, ultimately supporting the remainder of our workday.
When do you face an energy slump in your day? What can you do during this time to take a break and refresh your energy levels?
How likely are you to take a break during your workday?
How can you structure your break times in a way that is beneficial to your productivity levels and energy levels?
Energy is a vital resource in today’s workforce. It encourages engagement which in turn increases productivity and innovation. Unfortunately, today’s workforce is experiencing low levels of engagement (Gallup, 2022) and decreased levels of energy (Hirsch, 2017). There are a variety of research studies that show how individuals in the workforce and those in a coaching-client relationship how to increase their levels of energy. Some key ways we can increase energy include investing in our overall health, exercising, investing in relationships with others, implementing good posture practices, reducing stress, and eating a healthy energy-rich diet.
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