Energy at Work: How Good Feelings Translate to Productivity

Energy at Work: How Good Feelings Translate to Productivity

Image: Umberto Boccioni, Charge of the Lancers, 1915, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

How do we reenergize at work? And what does that energy do for us, as employees and colleagues? Researchers from Brigham Young University, California State University and the University of Michigan took on these questions in a recent article for the Journal of Applied Psychology. Their research shows that relational energy – the psychological resources we gain from our interactions with others – has the capacity to make us simultaneously more effective and satisfied in the workplace.

Specifically, having energy and enthusiasm for our work keeps us going in the face of what the authors describe as “increasing job demands of longer work hours, continual change, technology blurring the boundaries of work and personal life, workload increases and the risk of job loss.” As “employees and organizations continually strive to do more with less,” employees increasingly run the risk of burnout.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913, Museum of Modern Art, New York City, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Maintaining and encouraging energy in the workplace is not a feel-good bonus for workers, but rather, a critical element of any organization’s success. Defining relational energy as “a heightened level of psychological resourcefulness generated from interpersonal interactions that enhances one’s capacity to do work,” the authors show that energy is in fact contagious – it spreads from leaders to those who work for them and between colleagues. Relational energy makes people feel as though they “could work harder, enjoy their work or be motivated to stick to their tasks.”

Relational energy, and the positive emotions that it inspires, has a direct effect on our productivity (e.g., “enhanced cooperativeness, minimized conflict and increased task performance”) and an impact on how we go about doing our work. Colleagues are more likely to seek help from someone with whom they experience “positive interpersonal affect . . . even if it means to going to someone less knowledgeable.”

But relational energy also measures our workplace interactions with others. The research suggests that people receive relational energy from leaders and coworkers who exhibit “positive affect, cognitive stimulation and behavioral modeling.” More specifically, the authors indicate that positive energy comes from “interpersonal interactions marked by dignity, respect and appreciation from others.” To inspire relational energy, we have to do more than put a smile on our faces and work hard ourselves. We have to encourage thoughtfulness in others, appreciate their efforts and treat them with respect and dignity.

This research affirms one benefit we consistently see arising from Books@Work seminars. Participants tell us that Books@Work helps them return to their tasks refreshed and renewed. Taking a break from the daily grind certainly can help us return to our work with more individual energy – but taking the time to engage with our colleagues spreads relational energy. One participant recently reflected that learning about people in Books@Work sessions actually helped him be a better motivator of others: “once you know them personally, and you know what kind of emotional person they are, you can use that out on the floor to interact and work with them.” Another told us that “there’s more respect for one another . . . now than there was before. I’m stubborn, and sometimes I [say], ‘No, you’re wrong.’ Now, I’m [saying], ‘No, maybe I’m wrong’ or ‘maybe we’re both right.’”

Relational energy can be something workplaces foster – for the mutual benefit of the organization and its employees. By creating opportunities for people to share ideas and experiences and to recognize and engage with one another respectfully, organizations can encourage the spread of relational energy. For those who catch the relational energy bug? They encourage, invigorate and engage each other, and they take that engagement back to work.

Study:  Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Owens, Bradley P.; Baker, Wayne E.; Sumpter, Dana McDaniel; Cameron, Kim S. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 101(1), Jan 2016, 35-49.

Learn More About Our Programs or Read More on The Notebook:

Recognition and Affirmation: A Case for Social Learning

For a More Creative Workplace: Foster Collaboration and Respectful Engagement

Need Productivity at Work? Take a Break Together.


Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Hill is the Project Director, NEH for All at the National Humanities Alliance and former member of the Books@Work team.