Relational Energy: Energizing the Workforce

Relational Energy: Energizing the Workforce

Who conducted the study?

The study was conducted by Bradley P Owens of Brigham Young University, Wayne E. Baker of the University of Michigan, Dana McDaniel Sumpter of California State University, Long beach, and Kim S. Cameron of the University of Michigan.

What was the aim of the study?

In the industrial and organizational field, the idea of energy at the workplace is one of great importance to organizations and other workplaces wherein human involvement is needed for the company to succeed. Energy, as it is used in this study, is defined as “an organizational resource that increases employees capacity for action and motivation, enabling them to do their work and attain their goals.” As such, the sources from where this energy stem from are of great importance and can be capitalized on for not only the success of the business, but the individual as well. Previous literature has accurately identified the main sources of energy, that include social interactions and sleep, to name a few, but fails to detail the effects of other people at work on ones own energy levels. Therefore, this study aimed to explore energy derived from relational experiences, known as relational energy, and its role in interaction from the viewpoint of the recipient (of the energy).

What did they find?

The researchers found that workplace interactions and relational energy provide psychological resources that can be used toward work productivity. These resources, as a result of relational energy from co-workers, allow the individual receiving the energy to perform better, cope with workplace stressors, reduce burnout, and increase employee well-being. Leaders in the workplace were also found to be able to induce positive energy in workers, with their actions coming secondary when it comes down to whether an employee perceives them as energizing.

When it comes down to findings pertaining to empirical contributions, the researchers contributed in various ways. First, a 5-point item likert scale used to measure relational energy was created and has been shown to be an effective measurement. Future studies will be able to utilize this scale in order to accurately conduct their own studies and further the knowledge of this topic in this field. Secondly, several social supports have been differentiated from relational energy, allowing it to be given its own place separate from the others. Finally, relational energy has been shown to be associated with employee job performance through the construct of employee engagement.

How did they find these results?

The results were found through a series of four studies, each with their own specific aim, with each study building on each other to finally come together to shed newfound light on relational energy and its effects on the receiver.

Study 1

The aim of the first study was to take knowledge previously gained from existing literature and research and apply it towards their own actions in order to contextualize the transfer of energy between workers.

An open-ended survey was administered to 64 individuals employed in various fields of work ranging from retail to healthcare. The survey asked the participants to answer a question asking them if they had ever been energized at work by a fellow co-worker and to elaborate on it via a small paragraph, specifically mentioning how the experience influenced their work and how they were energized.

Responses were recorded and uploaded to excel where they were coded by the first author of this paper and another trained researcher. The results yielded an inter-rater reliability score of 84%, demonstrating a “substantial strength of agreement” between the two coders choices.

Study 2

Study 2 aimed to create a measure of relational energy while being sure to differentiate it from other forms of social support such as emotional energy and leader-member exchange (LMX).

By drawing on guidelines previously researched, a 10 item likert scale was created by the researchers that would be able to accurately measure relational energy and be used in future studies as well.

In this study, three samples were utilized, each being administered a different test. Sample A was asked to rate a coworker based on the 10 item scale created by the researchers. From the results, and three rounds of executing the online surveys, 5 items were dropped from the original 10 item measure, giving a final 5-item scale to be used. Sample B was administered a survey asking the participants to rate their supervisor on relational energy, as well as social support and LMX via a 1-5 point agreement scale.

Study 3

Study 3 utilized data from two different time points to predict employee job engagement, all the while testing the usefulness of the relational energy scale.

A two-part voluntary and anonymous survey was conducted across various fields of work. The first part measured demographics, relational energy, and social support measures. The second part, administered approximately 1 month later, assessed employee engagement.

Relational energy was measured by rating supervisors on the 5-item scale developed by the authors of this study, while supervisor social support was conducted through the use of the same measure in study 2. Employee job engagement was measured via a 9-item, 7-point liker scale.

Study 4

This final study aimed to replicate the positive relationship between job engagement and relational energy, using mediation analyses to that relational energy is indeed positively affected with job performance through the construct of job engagement.

An online survey, similar to study 3, was first administered to employees asking them about their supervisor, job attitudes and demographics. Afterwards, a first survey was given asking about relational energy. Approximately 4 weeks later a second and final survey was given about employee job engagement and LMX.

Relational energy and job engagement was measured though the use of the scale developed in study 2. Job performance utilized a scale from 1,5 (most productive) to -1.0 (least productive) in order to attain the necessary data needed. Finally, LMX was measured though the use of a 7-item likert scale.

Why are these findings important?

The findings of this study are important in the field of research because this study has provided the scientific world with an operationalization of how relationships energize people in the workplace, leading to a more productive? workplace. Most importantly though is that this operationalization is grounded in theory, adding credibility to the findings. Furthermore, the findings are important because relational energy is a key variable that is factored in when discussing and conducting research on other variables affecting workers in organizations such as burnout, as they all deal with the overarching theme of human organization. With relational energy and the findings from this study in mind, leaders in the workplace will be able to make accurate decisions as to how to effectively deal with problems in the workplace that arise from the lack of energy that can include, but is not limited to, burnout, job desertion, and stress.

Where can these results be applied?

One of the primary places that these findings can be applied at is in workplaces, such as technical corporations and hospitals where a person’s energy level directly influences their productivity. In tech organizations, expectations and goals set forth by the company can drain employees of energy; especially when to many tasks have been assigned to a single person. Likewise, in a hospital setting, nurses are constantly running on low energy due to both the physical and mental strain their job puts on them. With the knowledge of energy, however, managers will be able to combat low energy levels and effectively energize their workers, creating productive workplaces that influence productivity, all the while avoiding negative effects such as burnout that might have occurred otherwise. The knowledge of how to make it so that a persons energy doesn’t fall to low is an amazing skill to posses as many problematic occurrences will be able to be avoided. Those who aren’t naturally gifted in this realm of problem solving will be able to learn from these findings and transition into better leaders who will be able to handle these problems as they arise. Furthermore, these results allow business leaders to maximize an employee’s energy, allowing the employee to increase their productivity and overall enjoyment in the workplace. Not only will the employee benefit from the increased energy, but the company itself will as well as the improved work productivity and energy will translate to a more open and inviting workplace that is sure to influence the company and its future growth.


Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016).Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 35-49.

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