‘Human energy is scarce and valuable because all acts depend on this resource’ (Steidal et al, 2017). Vigour, a key facet of work engagement is defined as manifesting ‘high levels of energy and mental resilience while working’(Bakker et al, 2014, p.391) Therefore, it is fundamental to understand the working climates that lead people to invest energy and those that trigger a need for energy conservation. To do this we have developed an ‘energy grid’ called FITT® that applies predictive analytics to decipher work climates and energy transformations. Predicting the varying climates that lead people to become inspired, apathetic, frustrated, cynical or disengaged can be useful for creating interventions. Within this ‘energy lens’ the different organisational climates reflect levels of useful energy, that is, the investment by employees in creating new ideas to solve workplace problems and getting things done in a values-based way. The analysis discussed here not only identifies engaged and disengaged cohorts but those existing in-between states. Work engagement is viewed as a spectrum in which people, temporarily, exist along different points of the continuum shifting their ability to ‘drive personal energies into physical, cognitive, and emotional labours’ (Kahn, 1992, p.700) as they respond to fluctuations in work climates.
FITT® is derived from four zones – Frustration, Inspiration, Tolerance and Toxic – and now explained in more detail. It is not claimed to be a panacea for identifying and remediating all workplace challenges but is offered as a useful tool to help organisations create a more sustainable, high energy work climate.
This zone is characterised by employees investing considerable levels of energy – illustrated by high levels of employee contribution – despite finding themselves having to operate in an increasingly degraded work climate that inhibits sustainable engagement from the workforce. Energy levels are not being replenished via sufficient resources or support, leading to increasing tensions and jobs pressures. The employment relationship has become very imbalanced with an ever widening ‘energy gap’. The pressure of having to maintain work standards leads people to become overwhelmed and frustrated. Conversational practice – both solutions and performance focused – is impacted, reflecting a reduced propensity for individuals and teams to work together to actively solve problems and deliver solutions. There are fewer opportunities to learn from mistakes – often as a result of time pressures and a less safe environment to speak up.
Continuation of this one-sided relationship may cause employees to move to the toxic zone, becoming increasingly cynical and fatigued or to the zone of tolerance, engaging passively as a response to energy conservation. This zone highlights the problematic side of workforce engagement, raising ethical issues particularly in organisations where employees’ energy is exploited and then discarded when they are unable to cope with the pressurised climate, eventually becoming burned out as a consequence.
This zone represents the ideal organisational climate, structured in such a way that allows employees to bring their ‘preferred self’ to their work role (Kahn, 1990,p700). It is an inspirational state where a healthy balance exists in the employment relationship that creates the conditions for sustainable engagement from the workforce. The level of energy exerted by employees is in line with that reciprocated by the employer. Conversational practice – both solutions and performance focused – is very healthy, reflecting a propensity for individuals and teams to work together to actively solve problems and deliver solutions. There is a strong sense of psychological safety. Staff are able to confidently express discontent in the workplace and to engage in challenging dialogue with senior management. Mistakes are seen as positive opportunities for learning and generally workplace tensions and job pressure are perceived as moderate, which supports wellbeing. Personal goals are aligned with team goals thus giving people a sense of clarity, meaning and direction in their job roles. Individuals feel valued and celebrated for their contributions. This sense of value is expressed, for instance, by an employer’s investment in workforce learning and development. What’s more, employees feel they have power to shape their working practices in order to achieve their performance targets.
This zone describes a work climate characterised by a passive form of engagement. Individuals and teams are not encouraged (and may not seek) new challenges, reflected in moderate levels of conversational practice and workplace tensions. There is an absence of those more desirable qualities usually associated with highly engaged individuals – that of commitment, a desire to improve, verve, a sincere interest in one’s work, and a sense of work being a place of possibilities and excitement. This lacklustre contribution from employees can reveal itself in rather mechanical and processual approaches to their job role, with individuals being quite contented to earn a living – not deeply invested in goals. In addition, the work climate does not provide an incentive for a ‘way out’, which can lead to ‘locking in’ low levels of energy that suffocate any sense of spark or brilliance.
This zone is characterised by a toxic work climate. Employees have become jaded, fatigued and as a final act of self-preservation begin withdrawing their energy output. A lingering sense of resentment – at how the employment relationship has transformed – in the most severe cases may result in employees seeking some form of retribution on their employer. In this zone, line managers are central agents in providing trustworthy leadership. Trust promotes openness and enables employees to feel secure and confident to share ideas for creative problem solving. Here there is a distinct lack of this with employees unable to speak openly – an absence of psychology safety – an essential part of building and maintaining a supportive working environment, combined with a sense of being disconnected from the broader organizational vision by distant, senior leaders. These factors create a breakdown of conversational practice resulting in elevated levels of workplace tensions and job pressure. A sense of desperation and blame sets in, often with associated health-related problems and creating a platform for high turnover and absenteeism.
Bakker, A.B., Demerouti, E. and Sanz-Vergel, A.L. (2014). Burnout and work engagement: the JD-R approach. Annual Review of Organisational Psychology and Organizational Behaviour, Vol, 1,1, pp.389-411.
Kahn WA. Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work (1990). Academy of Management, Vol 33, 4, pp.692-724.
Steidle, A., Gonzalez-Morales, M., Hoppe, A., Michel, A., O’Shea, D. (2017). Energising respites from work: a randomized controlled study on respite interventions. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Vol, 26,5, pp.650-662.