What exactly is “energy” – in the social or workplace sense?

There are a number of definitions and explanations, and perhaps this one gives us a good idea of what we are talking about:

“Energy is …a type of positive affective arousal, which people can experience as emotion (short responses to specific events), or mood – longer-lasting affective states that need not be a response to a specific event.”

The big question is, how do you attain that state of energy, in which people positively affect each other with their good moods, enthusiasm, and “can do” attitudes? Because there is no doubt that a happy, energized workplace is also a productive workplace.

According to research recently published by the American Psychology Association, energy is infectious whether positive or negative, and coworkers can infect each other either way. As Wayner Baker, one of the study’s investigators, put it in his article for the Harvard Business Review, “We ‘catch’ energy through our interactions with people.” This is called “relational energy”— and as the study concluded – it affects our performance at work.

This phenomenon can be understood well in other contexts too. Ask any stage actor how much better they perform when the audience is enthusiastic, responsive and energized. The vibe from a great audience flows across the footlights and positively infects the actors. The audience often feeds on it too.

The published study, entitled “Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance,” cites energy as an emerging topic of importance to organizations.

And no wonder. There are people in the workplace who lift your spirits. They are energizing because they give off positive vibes, by seemingly loving their job or generally being in a good mood. Their vibe can be infectious, creating a positive and even a more inspiring atmosphere for those around them.

Similarly, an energizing boss, can help employees feel more engaged in their job, going so far as to create a sense of a personal stake in the outcome. The experience of relational energy created by a good leader can increase an individual’s motivation and desire to succeed which can translate into higher and better performance. The more people are energized both by what they do and each other, the higher their potential individual and cumulative performance as a team.

In the end, an energized workforce is a workforce that both understands and is committed to realizing its goals. That particular kind of energy is a vital organizational resource and asset; the trick is to engender and then harness it. Four examples come to mind as examples of ways organizations can encourage a culture of positive relational energy to help make that happen:

  1. Help employees foster high quality connections with like-minded colleagues through shared projects or challenges. These may or may not be directly related to their jobs.
  2. Create energizing corporate events with an explicit focus on creating energy, not just delivering content, products or services.
  3. Promote a “giver” culture. Helping someone at work creates energy in the form of positive emotions — the “warm glow” of helping. Receiving help creates energy in the form of gratitude.
  4. Organize high energy, team building events, that get the adrenalin pumping and allow people to have fun while working together. Being together doesn’t always have to be about the work.


Ultimately, the right kind of relational energy can help create an environment that makes work feel a little bit less like work, and more like a place employees are happy to be a part of. And as Baker puts it in the title of his article, “The more you energize your workers, the better everyone performs.” No doubt this benefits everyone.


Ido Rabiner is co-founder and CEO of Strayboots, a global provider of corporate team building events, workplace activities, and organized company outings. Strayboots helps customers increase employee engagement through customized mobile scavenger hunts designed to foster connections, improve performance and build trust. Strayboots hunts are used by more than 1000 organizations including Fortune 100 companies, city governments and businesses worldwide. To learn more about organizing your next team building event with Strayboots please visit https://www.strayboots.com/events/.