Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.
I have been privileged this week to speak to the Affordable Housing Conference of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition of New York State. They invited me to lead a workshop on managing energy, helping people avoid burnout for themselves and for their staffs.
I based the workshop on two themes from Loehr & Schwartz’s book, The Power of Full Engagement:
“Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.” (p. 9)
“Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.” (p. 11)
The topics that we covered are shown below, along with some of the benefits of paying attention to them.
The group told stories illustrating abundant spiritual energy — their work makes clear and positive differences to people and neighborhoods in their communities. Some of the stories were about
- Helping people navigate their way to ownership of homes that they can afford, including the cost of transportation to schools, shopping, jobs, church.
- Renovating homes in ways that contribute to good health and easy ongoing maintenance. The Bronx has a very high incidence of asthma. One person talked about renovating homes to have much cleaner air than before, leading to lower levels of asthma, leading to children achieving greater success at school, leading to parents being able to concentrate on their work … an upward spiral.
- Providing people with home maintenance counseling so that they can keep their houses structurally sound.
- Replacing burnt out vacant houses with new houses built with construction techniques that lead to energy conservation, water savings, less construction waste, and universal accessibility for people of all ages and physical conditions.
Even with spiritual energy in abundance, the group still felt vulnerable to exhaustion and burnout. So we talked next about emotional energy, how people really don’t leave emotions at the door when they go to work, how negative emotions are more salient than positive emotions, and how it takes intentional effort to increase positive emotions on the job. We also talked about the benefits of positive emotions, how they have strong impacts on energy, health, resourcefulness, and openness to new ideas (Fredrickson, 2001, Wayne Jencke’s article on positive emotions and health). When we talked about specific ways to increase positive emotion in their offices, they focused most on showing gratitude and appreciation. We also talked about how they can support high-quality connections in their offices and how they can use language that creates a positive image of the future (Dutton, 2003).When we talked about mental energy, we focused on realistic optimism and using interpretative latitude effectively (Schneider, 2001). The previous evening had provided a very good example. The chair of the post-dinner meeting had painted a harrowing picture of budget cuts stemming from the current economic crisis, which is reducing state tax revenues and thus reducing what the state has to spend on programs like theirs. A man stood up in the audience to put a different spin on the situation. — We have know-how and expertise that will be strongly needed in the growing housing crisis. We know how to counsel people about affordable housing, renovate houses within tight budgets, make unlivable houses comfortable and inviting.
Both interpretations matched the facts. The first message was important because it included a call to arms to make sure the legislature knows the value of what they do. But the second was a more energizing way to end the evening because it converted the sense of loss to an awareness of opportunity to contribute.
We then talked about physical energy in terms of getting rest from work. There is so much to do that it is hard for these people to take themselves away. One man told me that only recently had he gotten a deputy who could make decisions and handle day-to-day crises. Until then, he never took real vacations because there needed to be somebody on hand to deal with minor crises before they became major crises. But their very awareness of being on the edge of burnout made them able to see why they need to keep active leisure — social activities, physical exercise, creative hobbies — in their lives. It helped that I could point to research about how people involved in active leisure recover more quickly from work stress. See my article on Active Leisure, which discusses research by Winwood, Bakker, and Winefield (2007).
Whatever these people achieve, there is always more to do. They could look at it like the myth of Sisyphus, where they keep rolling the rock to the top of the hill and then it rolls back down, requiring them to start all over. Or they can remember the people whose lives they have touched and the upward spirals they have started.
Dutton, J. (2003). Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown. (Added later)
Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2008). Manage your team’s energy, not just the work. Positive Psychology News Daily article, August 14, 2008.
Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.
During the workshop, we also talked about this book and its discussion of the different factors affecting differences in happiness between individuals. For a recent discussion, see Sherri Fisher’s article, Is Career Happiness Up to You?
Schneider, S. (2001). In search of realistic optimism. Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 2502-63.
Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Winwood, P. C., Bakker, A. B. & Winefield, A. H. (2007). An investigation of the role of non–work-time behavior in buffering the effects of work strain. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 49, 862-871.
- Logo of the Neighborhood Preservation Coalition of New York State.
- The image of 4 energy types courtesy of Kathryn Britton
- Deep breath of country air, photo of Gracie Steffen by Brian Steffen. Prize winner in a digital photography contest by dpchallenge.com.
- Football image from an article on physical exercise by The Depression Alliance, Scotland.