Want More From Workers? Tell ’em to Take a Break

If you want you and your staff to do more and do it better, Tony Schwartz recommends you abandon a slew of common business notions that he believes keep you from achieving your goals.

Stop thinking people are most productive when they put in unrelenting hours of panic-mode labor, Schwartz advised attendees during Hanley Wood’s HIVE Conference in Los Angeles on September 29th. Instead, work to supply all the needs that give them energy, and then focus their efforts on accomplishing their work in quick bursts rather than in a marathon-style slog.

“You want sprinters,” said Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project. “.,. When they’re focused, they’re really working. When they’re resting. They’re really resting. They’re not in the gray area.”

Schwartz argued that CEO really should stand for Chief Energy Officer, and that person’s role should be to mobilize, focus, inspire, and sustain a group. Most of what we do when managing people is about building their skill sets, he said. Then we hope they’re engaged. Schwartz argued that’s wrong.

“There is a marriage between commitment and capacity that exists within organizations. And capacity underlies everything. If that person isn’t fueled, it doesn’t matter how many skills they have. They can’t do it.”

“Capacity” and being “fueled” in Schwartz’s world involve understanding a pair of things. First, the usual way we’ve increased our capacity to accomplish a task was to devote more time to it. But time is finite, and most of us don’t have anything like the amount of time available to accomplish what’s required. And second, the internal fuel we have to put to work actually comes in four different types:

  • Physical energy: supported by food, sleep, exercise, and rest as opposed to sleep. “Rest gets no respect” among most of us, Schwartz said, but if you study athletes you’ll find they are geniuses at managing work-rest ratios. They make the renewal of energy just as important as the expending of energy.
  • Emotional energy: basically, how we feel. “[It’s] the way you need to feel to be at your best is the way you feel when you’re at your best.”
  • Mental energy: how you use your cognitive powers. For example, how much time can you devote to a single task? How can you shift your mental state so you think more imaginatively, big picture, creatively?
  • Spiritual energy: the energy of purpose. “If something really matters to you, do you bring more energy to it? Of course you do.”

All four of these forms of “fuel” help drive a person’s productivity, Schwartz said, so providing them can make a real difference in how a company performs.

Schwartz cited the May 2016 study by Zogby International and The Energy Project of 1,100
people who were asked if they agreed with the statement: “I’m comfortable taking renewal breaks during the day.” Between 29% and 33% of the respondents who agreed said they were more focused, engaged, committed to their work, and likely to stay at the company than those who weren’t comfortable with renewal breaks. And for people who agreed they felt a strong sense of purpose, the numbers were even better: 88% to 118% higher than those who didn’t feel that purpose, Schwartz said.

Providing all four fuels also revs up the bottom line. According to a 2012 global workforce study conducted by Towers Watson, companies with high levels of “sustainable engagement”—meeting all of the team’s energy needs—had operating margins of 27%.

That’s a strong contrast to the status quo, Schwartz argued. “To a large degree, relative to demand, we’re running on empty, or awfully close to empty. The way we’re working isn’t working.”

Craig Webb is editor-in-chief of REMODELING and PROSALES. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1972 in newsrooms from Indiana to Italy for leading news organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, United Press International, McGraw-Hill, and—since 2006—Hanley Wood. Follow him on Twitter at @craiglwebb.