The Secret to Avoiding Burnout: Balancing Energy with Output

Post by The Secret to Avoiding Burnout: Balancing Energy with Output

I was about 12 months in as a new Sales rep when I realized I was having trouble sleeping. I had a bit of nerves about quota each month, but it was more than that. I couldn’t stop thinking about the job. I was excited. I knew I was in a great position, at a great company, and I was hitting my numbers each month. The same thing used to happen to me as a kid playing basketball. I’d get so excited for practice or the game the next day that I’d be up all night long in anticipation, just like I was 5-years-old again waiting for Santa.

You could say I'm an intense person.

Falling asleep at night became harder than waking up for work each morning. But, I didn’t want a loss of sleep to affect my performance. So, I decided to do something about it.

I read a book by Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, that was called The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. (There’s also a shortened, award-winning article in the Harvard Business Review you can check out.)  The concept was simple yet thought-provoking. Instead of worrying about the sleep I wasn’t getting or thinking endlessly about the day ahead, I had to learn how to better renew my energy and focus on the present. As Schwartz writes, “Time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story. Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals—behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled, with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible.”

The Energy Project is about being your best self both at work and at home, and how you oscillate between peak performance and getting a little rest and renewal in order to get back to that peak performance. If you’re succeeding, you get time off, but if you’re not you should be working your tail off. You need to focus on a high quality of output. And whatever you’re doing -- whether it’s spending time with family, cooking, reading, enjoying date night, or even trying to fall asleep -- make sure you’re present in that moment. It’s a state of mind and concentration that’s about focus and attention. 

And, it worked. I changed my habits and my bedtime routine to help me focus less on the day ahead, and instead learn how to quiet my mind so I could wake up renewed, refreshed and ready to hit my quota each day. I learned to stay more present and let my mind focus on renewing its energy rather than worrying, stressing, feeling excited, etc. for the day ahead.

Fast forward to two years ago. I’d started managing the Sales department in HubSpot’s Sydney office and learned that our VP of Management and Leadership Development, @Laura Parrott, had initiated The Energy Project in our Cambridge HQ to proactively address employee burnout and promote better engagement and productivity in the fast-paced world of tech. It was a pilot program to gauge interest and effectiveness at HubSpot, but I made Laura promise me that if we ever followed up with spearheading the Project company-wide, she’d let me get involved from Sydney.

No surprise, The Energy Project was well-received by HubSpotters. Our culture is based on flexibility and the autonomy to create a work schedule that best fits your life. Like our Culture Code says, “Results matter more than the hours we work.” And while The Energy Project isn’t really about understanding work/life balance, it helps you understand the quality of your time and how to get your best results. 

So, last November Laura launched The Energy Project globally for HubSpot, and I volunteered to lead the charge as the facilitator in Sydney. I flew to our HQ in Boston and spent a week with Laura and the global leaders to learn how to teach others how to renew their energy. I set my email to OOO for the entire week -- which I’d never done before -- to focus my time on learning how I could best deliver and share the values of The Energy Project with the Sydney office when I returned. 

Why did I take a whole week “off” to learn how to facilitate this training in Sydney? Most people make the argument that learning how to balance energy with output, especially as a company leader, isn’t part of the job description. But it is. And over time, if employees and leaders don’t learn skills to avoid burnout, it will happen. I’ve seen it. And I’ve experienced it, too.

The fact is, more than 75% of people say they’ve experienced employee burnout at their current company. And let’s be honest, Sales specifically is a stressful career choice. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I love talking to customers about their growth potential and business passions. I love being in an environment where you’re always moving, shifting and adapting. But that’s just it -- it’s the employees who are highly engaged in their job that are at high risk for burnout. According to the Harvard Business Review, it’s 1 in 5 people.

That’s why when Laura first entertained the idea of launching The Energy Project at HubSpot, I decided I needed to help people through this process, including myself because I’m definitely not perfect. And learning to balance energy and output isn’t a skill you learn once and master, it’s something that needs to be practiced over and over again. I’d only gotten so much out of the book when I’d read it all those years ago, and I thought that by making The Energy Project a priority as a leader,  it would help me help the folks in Sydney with better balancing their energy and productivity to avoid burnout in this inevitably fast-paced environment of tech sales. 

Two months later, I was back in HubSpot’s Sydney office, and Laura came to visit to help me pilot the first Energy Project session in Sydney. We ran the session on a Friday in January and it was the perfect time of year with summer upon us and vacation plans in the works. We had 30 people packed in a room like sardines and ran one of the most impactful training sessions we’ve ever had in the Sydney office. Laura got rave reviews for the workshop and was mentioned in so many eNPS comments that quarter from employees about the value of the program and the renewed energy they felt in their day-to-day.

But the best part about the program was that it wasn’t just a session employees attended and forgot about the next day. I saw a real change in the office. Here’s what I mean: In Q1 of 2018, we had a terrible quarter from a Sales perspective. This Q1, we hit 100% of our quota. The leadership team, including myself, truly dug into leading by example and practiced being more flexible about when we work and when we leave, and it’s percolated down to the rest of the office. And, now more than 83% of the Sales team has worked from home this year. 

We’re on the right track. There’s always more work to be done, but it starts with leadership. In order for my team to continue performing their best, they need to have the mental and physical energy to do so. But you also have to have people who are bought into figuring out how to do that and solve for better balance. The Energy Project was the key to that better balance for both my team and myself, and although it’s a resource we will need to continue revisiting and practicing in order to perfect that balance, it’s put HubSpot in a prime spot to avoid burnout in the office and truly boost productivity and employee engagement across the company. It’s been a secret to our success as a Sales team, and the entire office, and I’m proud of the momentum The Energy Project continues to have in balancing how we use our energy in the office, and at home.

Have you ever heard of The Energy Project or tried something similar? Leave a comment below to let me know how it’s worked for you and your teams, or what you’re eager to know more about.

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Dave Shepherd

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