University of Southern California

Employee Highs and Lows Linked to Financial Performance
CEO Survey Shows Balanced Worker Engagement is Key to a Company’s Viability
February 11, 2014 • by News at Marshall

The results of the latest Leadership Pulse™ study conducted by Theresa Welbourne, a research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at USC Marshall School of Business, shows some of the highest worker energy numbers in the last decade.

But while on the surface high energy—defined as the energy or force that propels you forward at work—may seem like a beneficial outcome in the workplace, Welbourne’s research asserts otherwise. Too much energy, she says, can actually decrease productivity.

“The study results indicate that employee energy levels tie directly to productivity, growth and financial performance, and energy is on the rise,” Welbourne stated. “It’s important to know, however, that working above or below one’s optimal energy level is counter-productive, leading to more mistakes, bigger problems and burnout.”

The survey found that low energy is also problematic, especially at the senior management level, with senior managers among the most disengaged of those surveyed. The results show that 63% of leaders in the sample are below their ideal energy level (this is lost productivity), and only 16% indicate that they are at their best energy level.

“People are still working below their best,” said Welbourne. “It may seem like they’re doing better, as the economy is slowly recovering. But people are still scattered, what I call the ‘stacking work syndrome,’ where there is lots and lots to do stacked on their desks, but also uncertainty about which stack is most important. That leads to people not finishing anything, not feeling much accomplishment.”

So what’s a manager to do? Employees have to be a part of the conversation. Communication affects engagement and energy, says Welbourne. “Leaders have to talk to their employees, teaching how to ask for what they want and to accept responsibility.”

The study also measures a company’s culture for growth, change and innovation. “This research indicates that people who feel a high sense of urgency while being valued, recognized and rewarded for their contributions are more productive,” stated Welbourne. “We find that organizations that know how to balance urgency with traditional engagement are the ones that win in the long run. They have sustained growth and a culture that supports innovation.”

Leadership Pulse is conducted quarterly in partnership with the USC Marshall Center for Effective Organizations (CEO), human resources consulting firm Mercer and technology partner eePulse.


About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.