In "The Productivity Paradox" in the June issue of Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz, author and head of consulting firm The Energy Project, writes about his work with Sony Pictures Entertainment in boosting productivity from the company's workforce. His approach to more effective employees was to focus on managing employees' energy levels with leadership offering tools and support as they set the example with their own actions.
An article in the May 20 issue of the Economist named some serious consequences of overstretched employees including rising absenteeism, low-level corporate crime, and flagging company loyalty. Not surprisingly, overworked employees are likely to put in the bare minimum: citing the Corporate Leadership Council, the Economist reports that the number of workers willing to put in "discretionary effort" has halved since 2007. The worst outcome, of course, is the danger of the flight of high-potential talent.
There's a lot of common sense in the idea that managing energy is the key to managing productivity, according to Schwartz. For one, human beings aren't computers. Multitasking by people is nothing like the speed and ability to run multiple programs simultaneously. People perform best when they alternate between intense concentration and occasional reviving breaks. Finally, a simple way to increase high-quality output is to schedule regular "rituals," as Schwartz calls them, and make them part of a normal day. Rituals can be practices like daily walks or a block of time when e-mail is turned off to provide uninterrupted focus on a single project.
While these are useful tactics to boost performance and output, in order to implement them, employees depend on support from the top. As a manager, set examples. For example, make a point of going out to lunch and encourage employees to avoid eating at their desks. Leaders can also actively let employees know that they are not expected to check and respond to their e-mail around the clock. At Sony, Schwartz says, the executive team agreed on time boundaries for e-mail, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Also, don't multitask when meeting with your reports. They deserve your undivided attention.
Schwartz includes in his piece a test to measure your own energy-management as a leader and more tips on increasing it at theenergyproject.com/hbr.