Bradley P. Owens

The ignored resource that predicts job performance

Professors Kim Cameron and Wayne Baker measure relational energy and show how it’s critical for performance and well-being.

What if there was a resource you could tap that would improve the job performance, happiness, and well-being of people in your organization?

New research by Michigan Ross Professors Kim Cameron and Wayne Baker shows there is such a resource, and it doesn’t cost a dime.

They and co-authors Brad Owens of Brigham Young University and Dana Sumpter of California State University-Long Beach measured what they call relational energy — the energy you get when you interact with someone who energizes you. Through surveys and field studies they documented how this energy works and the effect it has on organizations.It turns out to be a big predictor of job performance and personal well-being.

The more relational energy a leader exudes the better employees on that team perform in terms of productivity, absenteeism, engagement, and job retention.

Employees also are more likely to help each other and volunteer for tasks outside their job description.

“Managers spend so much time managing information and influence,” says Cameron, the William Russell Kelly Professor of Management and Organizations. “But relational energy trumps both of those by a factor of four as an outcome determiner.”

A related study by Cameron, Baker, and their co-authors found that people who experience relational energy at work have better home lives as well.

“There’s a spillover from relational energy at work to the home, says Baker, Robert P. Thome Professor of Management and Organizations and professor of sociology. “When we interact with people, some buoy us up and others bring us down. When you’re buoyed up you tend to bring that home.”

Relational energy isn’t to be confused with charisma or personality, say Cameron and Baker, who are both core faculty members for the Center for Positive Organizations. Being an extrovert isn’t necessary. It’s simply the way people feel after you interact with them.

The research uncovers a cost-free way leaders can improve results, loyalty, and create a positive work environment. The key is finding the centers of energy in the company.

“Early in our research we’d meet leaders who knew something was wrong, but they couldn’t put their finger on it,” says Baker, “Now they can do a relational energy survey, draw an energy map and show the bright parts of their organization and the black holes. It’s hard to figure out what’s going on until they see a map. It’s like seeing an X-ray.”

Cameron says there’s a need for companies to recognize relational energy and find ways to make it work for them.

“Do people get promoted or hired because they’re a positive energizer? No, it’s not even on the agenda,” Cameron says. “So here’s a resource that’s been ignored but is a major predictor of performance.”

The papers on this topic are titled “Relational Energy at Work: Implications for Job Engagement and Job Performance” and “Relational Energy: Positive Spillover into Work and Nonwork Domains.”

Reprinted from Ross Thought in Action