Prevent burnout by managing energy

This is part of a series publishing portions of a research paper on How a Leader Maintains High Productivity Without Team Burnout. 

This post contains the portion of my research that focuses on what a leader can do to manage energy, but it barely scratches the surface on what I think is the key to burnout prevention: our personal management of energy. Energy management is holistic; it encompasses spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. It is not about being self-centered but about caring for ourselves so we have the energy to be others-centered. In the future I plan to delve into what I think are the three main aspects of energy management:

  • our day-to-day habits
  • whether we’re investing our time/energy into things that energize us (i.e. things that align with our personal, intrinsic values) or drain us.
  • our beliefs about stress (more on this in part 6)

But that is a topic for another day.

How a Leader Maintains High Productivity Without Team Burnout

Learn how to manage energy (Literature Survey Principle #3)

Leaders are stewards of organizational energy… They inspire or demoralize others first by how effectively they manage their own energy and next by how well they mobilize, focus, invest and renew the collective energy of those they lead.  The skillful management of energy, individually and organizationally, makes possible something that we call full engagement. To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003, pp. 5)

First, Learn to manage your own energy

Managing energy and increasing engagement involve daily habits and the health of the whole person (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health). Managing energy requires a person to be connected to their needs, their values, and their strengths and weaknesses.

It is difficult, even impossible (or unethical), for a leader to manage the habits and beliefs that are most influential in an individual’s use of energy. What a leader can do, however, is lead by example: develop good self-awareness, set healthy boundaries around time and energy investment, get adequate sleep, eat regularly, take time to be with their family, create routines that renew, and invest in becoming healthy physically, emotionally and mentally.

The purpose of self-care through preventive stress management is to become more competent in managing stress, to become healthier, and as a result of that competence and health, to be a stronger asset for the groups and organizations in which one participates. (Quick, et al., 1997, pp. 301-2)

“The magazine Fast Company asked… successful professionals to talk about how they avoided burnout in the face of highly demanding jobs. Nearly everyone described very specific routines they had instituted to ensure they regularly renewed themselves” (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003, pp. 33-4) One of these interviewees said specifically that it’s important to pace oneself and “allow time for plenty of breaks” (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003, pp. 34) Another said that she never works on airplanes, instead she uses that time to do something that helps her recover. Another takes a four-day-weekend once a month with his family and makes sure his calendar is blocked off for those days. Another refuses to use a cell phone or voicemail.

Then, Watch for signs that employees are not managing their energy well (and say something to them)

Watch for signs of emotional health and then choose to coach employees to systematically expand their capacity. Signs of emotional distress include anxiety, rigidity, poor listening skills, lack of empathy, impatience, and being critical.

A person’s sleeping and eating habits are good indications of how an individual is doing. A leader can ensure that employees take breaks, get adequate time between shifts to sleep, and have access to healthy food during their breaks (or champion for wages that allow employees to afford healthy food).

These can be difficult topics to approach with an employee. Check out part 4 for an interview with a leader that practices the art of giving effective feedback (hint: it’s about the trust a leader has developed over time with their employee and the way the feedback is approached).

Identify conditions in the organization that are energy-sucks and champion change.

For example, Morgan McCall says that

believ[ing] that the fittest will survive without much nurturing, organizations not only overlook people [with] the potential to develop but also frequently and unintentionally derail the talented people they have identified as high flyers by rewarding them for the flaws, teaching them to behave in ineffective ways, reinforcing narrow perspectives and skills and inflating their egos. (Casserley & Megginson, 1998, pp. 64-5)

Companies can also help employees manage and regenerate energy by creating “energy generating principles and values [that] are stated clearly, understood and shared by every employee” (Smith, 2011, pp. 3).

“Tackling burnout means changing the way organizations are structured and led. Implicitly it means reducing workloads and helping employees find greater work/life balance.” (Casserley & Megginson, 2009, pp. 63-4)

This looks different in every organization. This may represent removing needless bureaucracy, creating stronger lines of communication between departments, or even allowing employees to feel like they have more control over their schedule. Other ideas can be found in this interview. The possibilities are endless.

" Energy, not time is the fundamental currency of high performance.” - Loehr & Schwartz


The series

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