Human Renewable Energy

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Human Renewable Energy: Creating a sustainable environment for peak human performance. As we navigate the effects of climate change in the 21st century, the concept of sustainable energy is becoming more and more prevalent. We understand the side effects of constant consumption and the environmental toxins released by fossil fuels. 

As a society, we are moving towards more sustainable energy sources and learning to work with the dynamic nature of the energy these provide just as the tides and winds wax and wane. We understand that a sustainable mindset will provide us with a healthier, longer term, and strategically optimal way of managing energy demands. 

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, in a world of context-switching and instant gratification, we are experiencing an overconsumption of stimuli and our attention spans have never been shorter. 

We are working longer hours, and our downtime is not downtime but time for more dopamine fixes, from streaming entertainment to scrolling social media.

How is it that we are resourcing this constant pull on our internal batteries and what happens when they run out? 

What is Human Renewable Energy?

Human renewable energy, in the context of an individual’s personal time, physical wellbeing, motivation and passion, refers to the sustainable management of cognitive, physical, and emotional resources. It involves practices aimed at maximising productivity, creativity, and well-being, while minimising burnout and stress. Strategies include time management techniques e.g. Pomodoro technique, developing mindfulness, and stress reduction methods. By optimising these mental and emotional energies, individuals can enhance their overall performance and maintain a healthier work-life balance. 

Companies that promote these practices often experience higher employee satisfaction and productivity, demonstrating the positive impact of managing human mental and work energy effectively.

Effects of high-pressure work environments on performance

Humans have an immense capacity for productivity, ingenuity, and progress. For those of us who work in Digital Transformation, we are in a constant cycle of hard work and achievement. This is very rewarding but if the cycles are too long, it can also be very draining and lead to poor decision making and burn out. 

On long and/or extended programmes, without light at the end of the tunnel, team members can start to lose their morale and motivation. Tasks they have previously performed well could become too challenging and perhaps even overwhelming. 

This has been demonstrated in the work of Curt Richter who placed rats into a bucket of water. He conducted ‘a sink or swim exercise’ and found that after about 15 minutes the rats (exhausted) gave up and started to sink. At this point, he swooped in and rescued them. After sufficient time for rest, he placed them back into the water. 

Now, at a guess, we could say that the rats might be tired after their initial swim and so their swimming time would be reduced – let’s say by 10 minutes. Perhaps they might be more experienced after their initial swim and so could go for a little longer? Say 20 minutes?

Richter found that the rats outperformed his wildest expectations and swam for a further 60 hours before needing rescuing. What changed? Richter hypothesised that the rats understood that there would be a rescue and so their new mindset allowed them to push further. The rats had hope!

Applying this concept to people suggests that, if we give employees smaller, bite-sized challenges to wok on, with celebratory and/or rest points in between, they will perform better, for longer periods of time, and with more efficiency. 

It’s not just fossil fuels that burn out

It used to be that our biggest fear about fossil fuels was not global warming but that they would run out. We would utilise all the gas, consume all of the oil and burn all of the coal. Then, there would be no energy left. Fossil fuels are not the only carbon-based form that can burn out. 

As humans, we often believe that our energy is infinite and boundless. However, when placed in high intensity and stressful scenarios for an extended period, humans can also burnout. Burnout can occur when people feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, or unable to meet the demands that life places on them.

This can manifest as exhaustion, anxiety, depression and result in digestive issues, heart attacks and strokes. 

Isn’t that what sleep is for?

When people with burnout try to sleep, it can be quite frustrating. It’s like you’re craving rest, but your body just won’t let you have it. 

You see, this constant ‘fight or flight’ mode, which is a response to stress, keeps you on edge, even when you desperately need to relax. During sleep, our bodies usually take care of important tasks, like repairing tissues, consolidating memories, and regulating our emotions. 

But when you’re dealing with chronic stress and burnout, your body’s stress response system remains in overdrive, interfering with these essential processes. So, you wake up feeling exhausted and emotionally drained, and the cycle of exhaustion continues.

Steve Sanders, a high-profile Director of a global tech firm, experienced this same phenomenon in the lead up to him making a career change. With ownership of global strategy for a growth hungry corporation, Steve found that each day he would wake from what should have been 6 hours sleep feeling more exhausted than when he went to bed. Even at the weekends, he couldn’t catch up on his rest; over time, he became more and more irritable and anxious. 

Steve invested in AI which monitored his sleep cycles and found that during those 6 hours, his deep (REM – Rapid Eye Movement) sleep was 30% lower than the norm. No wonder Steve was struggling with his health and wellbeing, given that burnout and sleep reduction can reduce cognitive performance by up to 50% and cause long term health issues. 

What does this tell us? It tells us that for people with burnout, sleep is no respite, and we need to factor in other approaches to managing their wellbeing. 

How do we sustain peak performance?

If sleep isn’t the golden bullet, what other methods can help to reduce or avoid burnout? How can we sustain high performance without breaking ourselves and our people in the process? 

  • While sleep isn’t the golden bullet, it is incredibly important and we should ensure that we make time for 6 to 8 hours of high-quality sleep per night. You can’t make up for lost sleep – once its lost, its lost, so don’t scrimp in this area. For employers, if your 9 to 5 people are regularly working into the evening or overnight, this will – over time – degrade their health and their performance. 
  • You cannot run a marathon and a sprint at the same time and, as every good sports coach knows, your recovery time is just as important as your training time. Work hard in manageable chunks and then allow distinctive breakpoints for celebration, reflection, and rest before the next initiative. If you schedule your people to be constantly on full steam, eventually they will have nothing left to give. 
  • Humans are instinctively creative creatures and using our brain to explore new ideas, create works of art or engineer new solutions puts us into a state of flow. When we are in a flow state, we have more clarity, energy and are better able to cope with the stress life sends our way. As an employer, you can help your people by ensuring that they have a good mix of activities to keep them engaged and make them feel valued and empowered.  
  • You can also support your people by ensuring that there is balance between the job demands and job resources this will help your people to thrive.