REALITY BITES

REALITY BITES - Everyone, it seems, wants or needs more energy. Look around a restaurant at lunchtime - few wine glasses but plenty of double espressos.

by RICHARD REEVES, a consultant and business writer
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Everyone, it seems, wants or needs more energy. Look around a restaurant at lunchtime - few wine glasses but plenty of double espressos.

Feeling a bit low? Burnt-out? Lacking vim and vigour? Not to worry - Joel Sutton will get you sorted. Operating out of a nondescript building in the traffic-choked Spitalfields area of east London, Joel knows how to make you feel good.

His client base is broad. 'They range from presidents of investment banks looking to recharge their batteries to out-of-work actors looking to improve their career prospects,' he says. They know that after a visit to him 'anything is possible'.

We're not talking drugs or sex here. Joel is the first person in the UK to sell personal energy. His centre, the Energy Bank, runs relaxation classes, massage, yoga, counselling, chill-out sessions - anything to raise personal energy levels.

And there is a rich market for his product. Everyone, it seems, wants and needs more energy. Look around a restaurant on a workday lunchtime - few wine glasses (alcohol puts us to sleep), but plenty of double espressos.

The high street coffee revolution is the energy revolution made visible.

Advertisers have, of course, spotted the trend: Red Bull 'gives you wings'; multi-vitamins 'put back what life takes out'; energy drinks - 'have a drink before work'.

Magazines, especially those for women, are swollen with articles on boosting energy levels. And illegal drug use is often a result of the search for a bigger energy kick than a chocolate bar can manage. Cocaine use is soaring.

Half of us say we have less energy than we need. According to the Henley Centre, we now rank energy as more important than money, information and space - and only just behind time. One in four of us think that within five years, energy will be our single most important personal resource.

Only half as many reckon information will be at the top. It's not the Information Age; it's the Energy Era.

Scratch the surface of current debates about information fatigue, time squeeze, work/life balance or productivity and you quickly see that we're often talking about energy. And about our need for more of it. When you feel energetic, an hour is long enough to tear through your inbox, fire off five money-spinning ideas and book a holiday with your loved one; when you're exhausted, just turning the PC on is a struggle. If the 1980s were about the quest for money and the 1990s about the scrabble for time, the 2000s are set to be the energy decade.

Energy is a priceless business asset - across organisations as well as in individuals. When we hire someone, we want them to bring new energy into the workplace. Two out of four of Jack Welch's E's for spotting successful managers are about energy: having high personal energy levels yourself and - just as important - being able to energise others. One CEO told me: 'I've come to the conclusion that my job is simply injecting energy into the right part of the organisation at the right time.'

For organisations, employee energy is a critical ingredient of success, yet it barely flickers on the corporate radar. Working practices can be gaping energy drains: why else do meetings need biscuits, other than to artificially replace the energy of the participants as it seeps out of them? Presenteeism is an energy-slayer; as is unnecessary bureaucracy.

Progressive firms think about time and space, creativity and communication, but they also need to think about measuring and investing in the factor that affects all of these and the bottom line: energy. Energetic enterprises are the future.

This doesn't mean everyone running around like headless chickens, yelling at each other like futures traders. Positive energy is often quiet, but you can hear its hum. It is palpable in an environment where people work with purpose.

Consultants Stanton Marris are the only people trying creatively to put some hard measures behind the growing recognition of energy at work, using a web-based 'energy tracker' that captures, in real-time, the energy levels of different departments and how they compare to the whole organisation.

They then advise bosses on likely energy blockages within the company and how to remove them.

'In addition to its core and support processes, workforce, systems and physical assets,' says Stanton Marris consultant Robert Smith, 'every organisation has an added element that can be its best medicine or its worst poison.'

And Sutton says more firms are waking up to the energy crisis. 'The Energy Bank is increasingly being approached by companies requesting that we relax, recharge or de-stress their staff. They know that an individual with plentiful energy feels good and works well.'

For many years, the most evocative description of company culture has been the phrase coined by the London Business Schools' Sumantra Ghoshal: 'the smell of the place'. I've struggled a bit with this. The smell of a place can depend on whether the cleaners were in lately, the state of the air-conditioning or the volume of perfume on a receptionist. It seems that energy is a better way of capturing the essence of an organisation's soul. Never mind the smell: feel the vibe.

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