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“The universe operates through dynamic exchange…giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe.” -Deepak Chopra 


As some of us prepare to shift forward to the physical workplace and away from working from home, the focus for most leaders is on hybrid work environments and questions like these: 

  • How can we balance remote and face-to-face work to optimize engagement?  
  • What will make hybrid team cultures work? 
  • How can we improve productivity moving forward? 

These are all important and tactical questions. 

 We would like to offer a strategic perspective to support shifting to healthier and more inclusive work cultures: viewing workplaces as energy exchanges.  


Why should we start looking at workplaces as energy exchanges?  


In a recent BVC (Barrett’s Values Centre) North American survey, one of the key insights around balance was: 

Employee Health has been a focus during the COVID-19 pandemic – and Balance (work/life) was identified as critical to maintain going forward. 

It is not only critical to maintain, but it needs to be significantly improved in most workplaces in order to reduce and manage burn out and chronic stress levels. 

Even though most work cultures became more productive during the pandemic, many have also become more imbalanced. According to a recent article in Chief Executive, “today’s flexible working model has not been without pitfalls for employees: on average, they are working three hours longer each day.” (Chief Executive) Why is that? 

For remote workers, since they are working from home, they are living at work – there is very little or no separation. There has been no commute time, of course, so more time to work! And work/life balance has become almost impossible. On the other hand, if you are an essential worker on the front lines, work has become much more stressful because of the concerns around safety and health. We have all been thrown into this new work-life without much of a chance to adjust properly. So overall, productivity is up, but work/life balance is down partly because we never had a moment to create and uphold boundaries that support us! 

What can we do about this?  First and foremost, we need to shift mindsets to balance well-being with performance. Too many leaders believe that by prioritizing well-being, we will “take the foot off the gas with performance.” Instead, well-being needs to be prioritized over performance versus the other way around. Well-being fuels performance! 

To support this “well-being first” mindset, the concept of workplace cultures being like energy exchanges can help. 


What is the concept behind “workplaces as energy exchanges?” 


We are all familiar with the concept of ‘market’. During the first Industrial Revolution, in the early 1800’s when we were an agrarian society, we had (and still have) farmers’ markets. Farmers took their produce into the town and  sold their crops for fair market value. The “exchange” here is a commodity type exchange – working hard to nurture the crops, to pick at the right time and people pay for the commodity and service from their hard-earned cash. A simple buy/sell exchange.

Today, we have stock exchanges in all areas of the world that are way more complex and are driven by supply and demand and move at the speed of light. Much of the “work” is invisible and the value creation in many contexts is difficult to understand.  

Most workplaces are still viewed as an “exchange” of energy/effort by people for fair market payment of some kind. The problem in most businesses is not necessarily a work/life balance problem, but a giving/receiving energy problem. Most people only get “paid” and feel they receive far less than the value of what they give. The exchange is therefore largely transactional and imbalanced. We are stuck in the mindset of “getting work done through people” versus “getting people done through work.” What this means is that there needs to be a shift in mindset from focusing on the work/result to focusing on the people and the work culture to fuel results.  

If we continue to look at people as commodities in a transactional way, this will make our burnout problem at work much worse (and it is already bad!). According to a McKinsey global survey, 49% of respondents said they were feeling at least somewhat burnt out. (McKinsey) It is jarring to note that almost half of all employees reported being burnt out, and that number is likely an underrepresentation of the real number. We need equal energy exchanges in the workplace now more than ever.  

Instead of looking at people as commodities, we change our mindset to one that is “People First” and is centered on learning, growing and evolving.  It is crucial for employers to begin an open dialogue with their employees about balance and well-being. This step is necessary for the energy exchange to be fair and equal, and to create a healthy workplace culture where employees can thrive. 


How can we activate workplaces to be more like energy exchanges? 

Let’s look at our workplace cultures as an ecosystem and consider all exchanges within that environment as being relational vs transactional. Here are three energetic domains we can consider within workplace cultures: 

1. The balance between RECEIVING & GIVING 

Most people feel they are giving way more than receiving. They feel they are being taken advantage of. This is how most of us have been conditioned. Let’s encourage each other to receive more.  

What are some practical ways to activate more of a RECEIVING focus? 

    • Permission to take short microbreaks throughout the day
    • Eat well throughout the day – fuel up!
    • Carve out time for exercise and movement every day (put it in the calendar and let people see that you are taking a 15-minute walk or supporting a family member) 


2. The balance between LEARNING & PRODUCING 

In any organization, an essential ingredient is #GSD (get sh*t done!)

Being productive is critical in any business and we know what puts fuel in the tank is learning & growing – it’s energizing! So let’s encourage our people to learn more. 

What are some practical ways to activate more of a LEARNING focus? 

    • Each quarter, have a personal development focus for everyone that energizes (linking to the business or not!) 
    • Encourage people to do “work withs” with colleagues to learn about other areas of the business 
    • Give permission to carve out time & space during work hours (i.e. between meetings) to integrate information to capture learnings 


3. The balance between BEING & DOING 

This is probably the most difficult one! Being is about presence and being comfortable with not “doing” anything! 

If you are like me, this is often a scary and guilt-inducing mode. Yet, it is a critical piece to the puzzle for better balance and well-being. Dr. Greg Wells calls this “alpha” time – when we are engaging the alpha brain waves. In other words – “chilling out.” Alpha waves are vital to reducing stress.

Another way to look at this is by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system (OFF mode) vs the sympathetic nervous system (ON mode). As humans, we need to consciously carve out enough BEING or OFF time in order to restore and rejuvenate. 


What are some practical ways to activate more of a BEING focus? 

    • Encourage moments to celebrate, appreciate 
    • Carve out 10-15% of meeting agenda time for white space, connection time 
    • Being disciplined with transition space of 10-15 minutes between meetings 


We all want more energy in our lives. Let’s listen in and consciously create enough space to “charge up” on a regular basis by helping to make workplaces natural energy exchanges that both give and receive, learn and produce and create balance between being and doing.  


Tim Magwood, Partner & Co-Founder



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