Science Behind Energy Levels: How to determine the best level of energy for a job

As Peter walked into Starbucks for our 10 o’clock meeting, I could just sense his frustration level was high. I suggested he might want to order a decaf and stay away from the caffeine. His response: “If you only knew what I’m going through right now.”

We found a table and sat down. Before I could ask my Question: “Do you want to tell me about it?”,  he was throwing the problem on the table like a piece of red meat. “Fred just lost us our most important account! I can’t believe this has happened. I don’t have any other option than to fire him!”

“Ok,  let’s slow down a bit so I can understand how Fred screwed up and if terminating him is really in the company’s best interest,” I said.

After about 10 minutes of listening to Peter’s description of the situation I knew what the problem was: The client didn’t believe that Fred had the energy or passion to drive the project to completion, especially because the project was very complicated.  Putting Fred, a rather low energy guy, on a high-energy project wasn’t going to work.

I spent the next 45 minutes explaining to Peter why it is so important to understand the effect that energy level can have in the workplace.

We all know people who have high levels of energy; they’re like the Energizer Bunny. We also know people who have less energy in their tank.  If you have children, you will know if your child is a firecracker or if they are mellow and need a push, now and then.  The interesting thing about energy is that your level is assigned to you at birth.  So a high-energy child will also be a high-energy retiree.

Can you change or manipulate your energy level?  Sure, just have a 5-hour energy drink and see what happens.  You will increase your energy for a short period of time and then it will go back to what your nature level is.

In the workplace differing levels of energy can lead to conflict.  A high-energy manager might become frustrated with a low energy employee and think that he or she is lazy and not willing to carry their load. However, low energy does not equate automatically to laziness.  Fred, for example, is just wired differently from his boss and has less energy in his tank. This is not something Fred asked for. If Fred is given a project to complete that requires a high level of energy, something that he doesn’t possess,  then Fred will experience a significant level of stress, and the client will pick up on this.

Conversely,  if a high-energy employee is placed in a low energy job, they will become bored and frustrated. They need to be given work that might be faster paced or more challenging.

Had Peter understood that Fred’s energy level was more on the low side he probably would have joined Fred when he went to meet their prospective client and been there to support him. Or, he would have decided that this is not a good project for Fred and should be given to someone else, someone with a much higher level of energy.

So how do managers avoid  making energy-related mistakes?

  1. Better Understand Self 
    The better the manager understands his/her energy level, the better they will be able to determine how much physical, mental, and emotional challenge they can take on and deal with effectively.  High-energy managers can conquer almost any goal or task. They have endless fuel in their tank and can take on multiple projects and/or diverse activities. If their natural energy level is lower, they understand that they will be most effective if they can focus on few activities, bringing them to completion before taking on new challenges.  The key word here is FOCUS.   Low energy managers will need to understand issues or circumstances that lead to stress and look for ways to reduce this stress.  If they don’t, this stress will sap their energy. Low energy managers can also look for ways to recharge their battery during the day.  This might be something as simple as walking around the building at lunch time or exercising a few times per week. Some low-energy managers might do well to get more sleep at night or eat a lighter lunch. Lastly, it is important that a manager understands how their energy level impacts his/her employees.  Is a high-energy manager using this power to support and energize his team or is he using the energy to push employees too hard?
  2. Better Understand the Employee
    A successful manager will be able to match an employee’s energy level to the right job. If these are not in sync then the manager runs the risk of employee burnout or boredom.  Using a good behavioral assessment tool like PDP will help the manager to understand both the natural energy level of their employee and the energy required for a specific job. Again, high-energy managers should not write a low energy employee off as being lazy.  They simply are wired differently and need to use their energy in a more focused manner.  There are also ways that a manager can support his/her low energy employee to maintain their energy level.  For example, there might be workplace stressors that the manager can discuss with the employee to try to figure out how this stress can be reduce. Unrealistic timelines or inadequate resources might be issues that need to be addressed. Remember: stress draws down the energy in your fuel tank. An employee might also be dealing with high amounts of stress outside of the workplace: divorce, health of a spouse, financial issues. If a manager is sensitive and supportive – to the extent possible – they can help reduce an employee’s stress level even if it has nothing to do with work.
  3. Better Understand the Job
    I remember one of my first business trips to Europe where I plugged my American electric toothbrush into a German socket.  It didn’t turn out so well. The goal of the manager is to put a round peg into a round hole.  And the energy level plays a huge part in getting it right. Does the candidate have the right level of energy to do the job?When I worked in the healthcare industry we would look for high energy sales reps for our pharmaceutical division.  These reps would have to visit eight doctors per day. Beside spending time in their car driving to appointments, these reps would have to spend a lot of time in the waiting room. But when they did get their 2 minutes with the doctor they needed to have a huge power burst and show the doctor how excited they were with the product they were detailing.  If this energy were missing, the doctor would check out in the first 10 seconds.

Conversely, we had a diagnostic division with a much longer sales cycle. The most successful sales reps had more of a mid-level energy.

In summary,  knowledge about the energy level of both the manager and employee is vitally important for harmony in the relationship and success in the job.  There are ways to measure both an individual’s energy level and determine the best level of energy for a job. A good assessment tool, like PDP, can support management in making the right energy-based decisions.