Managing Up in an Environment that’s not Energy-Inspired  

by | Jun 5, 2023 | Organizational Health

According to a recent Mckinsey report, 40 percent of your workforce might be preparing to leave right now. While pay is one of the top reasons, several others were actually more compelling because they are entirely within the control of the organization’s leadership.  

Unsustainable work expectations are a key reason about one-third of employees leave. The people I feel most for in this setup are the managers stuck in the middle, dealing with unsustainable expectations from above while at the same time trying to lead/develop their teams.  

Have you found yourself in this work environment? If so, you’ve probably noticed higher attrition; more presenteeism; more reactive, strained workers; and less creative work.  

Your Three Options For Handling A Draining Work Environment 

If you’re a leader stuck in this situation, you have three options. You can either: 

  • Depart – Find a new job and leave your team struggling  
  • Stay and recognize the toll – Decide you’ll live with it and keep working in a burned in state 
  • Change the game – Figure out a way to manage up and change the expectations 

The third option is where I hope you start today– where you have the most autonomy over your own actions and energy drains, and where you can make an immediate difference for your team.  

How to Manage Up in an Environment that’s not Energy-Inspired  

An Energy-Inspired Leader understands the connection between energy and sustained performance, and prioritizes both performance and recovery to create a work environment/culture fueled by high positive energy. 

If that’s not occurring in your work environment, you have the opportunity to understand why and make changes. Start with:  

  • Candor in addressing the biggest energy-draining issues  
  • Clarity in seeking to understand why things happen and where there’s room for change 
  • Receptivity in listening with care and seeking understanding (especially when you receive unexpected feedback about your own leadership) 

Start With Yourself  

The best place to start is with yourself. You can choose to live and work in an energy-inspired way regardless of your level within the organization or the burdens being placed on you.  

You will need to be very intentional about the way you feel, respond, and recover. However, you have the opportunity to start making changes that honor your own energy and see how they radiate out. High positive energy is irresistible at any level.  

Examine what boosts your energy and what drains it, how you make time for recovery, and when you feel the most fueled and ready to make an impact. Make small focus-improving shifts, like cutting back email checking in favor of time for deep work or adjusting your schedule to mitigate afternoon slumps 

Make Broader Changes Where You Can  

You can’t change the entire culture of your organization but you can make changes within your own team and watch the impact. For example, small changes that create a bigger impact include:  

  • Asking about the decision-making process for meetings and whose time should be invested (71 percent of senior managers believe most meetings are poorly run/inefficient, yet still spend 23 hours a week in them) 
  • Consciously creating shorter, more agenda-focused meetings when you are leading 
  • Creating the expectation that your team take time away from work and technology (then backing it up by ensuring your expectations are feasible) 
  • Providing educational materials that make sense of the energy process and guide your team to build capacity  

Understand What’s Driving Your Leaders 

If your company’s leadership isn’t energy-inspired, what’s driving them? Some leaders are driven by the desire to achieve, exceed goals and ambitiously advance. Some are driven by fear of being found incapable. Some, you may find, are so burned in and worn down they don’t have the capacity to suggest or implement changes. They may often complain about processes or other people, but don’t offer real solutions. They’re just trying to get through the day.  

Manage your relationships with this in mind. If your leader is energy-drained, their immediate response may be reactive and combative, not because they’re against your ideas or because they want to keep creating unsustainable work expectations but because they’re already at the end of their rope and you’re suggesting they take on one more thing.  

Make It Matter  

If you want to implement a new behavior within the organization, show how it matters and connect it to a business driver. For example, research strongly suggests that creative workers are most productive with a five-hour workday.  

If you’re talking to your leader who’s not running on positive energy, asking for an already-behind and overwhelmed team to work fewer hours will be met with disdain or incredulity. But introducing real data may make a difference and allow some shifts for your people (giving them a work-from-home day to cut commuting, offering more flex options so they can work with their chronotype, etc.).  

Other ideas:  

  • If you want to offer your team a four-day workweek, find evidence that shows how your leadership will benefit 
  • If you want to shift from measuring work on time spent and instead focus on productivity, get the right tools in place so you can track and report key performance indicators 

You’ll have a better chance of succeeding and making change if you explain WHY it matters and how it impacts the bottom line. Make it about something tangible and something that will benefit the company’s overall efforts, not just about feeling.  

Trickle Up Positive Energy, Create A Real Difference For Your Team  

You may not always be in charge, but your energy-inspired leadership can make a measurable impact – which then trickles down contagiously to your team AND trickles up to make an impact on management practices and culture.   

The end result of these efforts should be a more tolerable, less draining workplace and more personal bandwidth and resilience because you’re properly energizing and recovering.

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