Workplace energy is a fickle resource, prone to waxing and waning without much provocation. After all, what is it that gives us zeal for work? Food? Coffee? Passion? Health?
The answer, of course, is a little bit of everything — and that makes generating energy complicated. It’s not as simple as stuffing one’s face, or guzzling caffeinated beverages, or only hiring people who want to work for your restaurant the rest of their lives; it requires some nuance and understanding of what motivates people.
Efforts to generate energy in the workplace often yield a great deal of frustration, though, because many sources are outside of an employer’s control. A worker’s personal circumstances, sleep levels, eating habits and other factors all affect performance. Business leaders can only focus only on the factors they can influence.
As it turns out, those factors are numerous. According to research by the University of Michigan, the single largest energy catalyst in any given workplace, not surprisingly, is one’s coworkers. In other words, the more enthusiastic an employee’s peers are, the more likely that energy is to infect an entire work environment, lifting productivity and contentment levels, which in turn impact the bottom line.
Researchers at the university deemed this effect “relational energy.” They recommended a number of best practices for enhancing it:
1. Create social capital. Relationships make the world go ‘round, and this is no less true in a work environment. If employees are not socially invested in each other, collaboration and cooperation create much more friction than necessary, and workers are less likely to care about their jobs. Hand-picking employee “teams” that check in with each other on a regular basis and work together toward sales or training goals is an easy method of prioritizing social development without disrupting operations.
2. Provide fertile ground for connection. Teams are excellent, but still intrinsically a part of work. The best place to forge social capital is actually outside of the store — by budgeting time for events specifically geared toward connecting employees to each other and to organizational leaders. These can be dinners, happy hour seminars, team-building activities like rafting: The possibilities are endless, and the value of the relationships forged more than outweighs the investment.
3. Maintain a two-way street. Employees can frequently feel as if they are giving and giving but receiving nothing in return. Promoting a give-and-take culture that frees workers to help one another with their day-to-day tasks fosters a deep sense of teamwork and empowers the overall community to get the job done. Create a store-wide channel where employees can pose questions and receive answers in a public forum, or simply ensure that all staff remain approachable and open to seekers of advice or assistance.
4. Install high-energy people in leadership positions. When it comes to energy, the trickle-down effect is dogma. A charismatic, motivated leader who is engaged with her organization can exert a profound influence on the mindset of her team, adding personal endearment to the fuel that drives performance. Leaders who care about the business and the employees are a perfect storm of energy, and will make lightning rods out of their team. Leaders who lack these features act oppositely, draining away motivation like a house stealing electricity from the grid.
Networking has always been an integral part of operations, but the emphasis has typically been on external outreach rather than internal. By flipping this conventional wisdom on its head, organizations can reinforce their foundation by ensuring that all energy generated on the inside self-perpetuates.
Ashish Gambhir is president and cofounder of MomentSnap, a mobile-based employee engagement platform.