Why and how to take energy levels into account at work? – Results from the international CARVE project

The CARVE HR manual chapters for promoting different types of energies at work.

Everyone has their own natural rhythm that determines how energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. This is called the circadian rhythm, which can be translated as ”about a day” -rhythm. But how could we take this rhythm into account during the day and increase our work productivity? Based on CARVE project findings, one solution could be “Chronocrafting”.

Figure 1. The hummingbird’s synchronous fluctuations of cortisol, melatonin and body temperature during the day and night (Hickie et al. 2013). Click to open a larger picture.

Genetically the circadian rhythm is mainly affected by the diurnal changes of light and dark, and the “central clock” in the brain, which affect the production of two important hormones in the body: melatonin (making you feel sleepy) and cortisol (making you energetic) (Figure 1). These diurnal cycles can also be observed in the daily emotions (Figure 2).

Since people differ in how their hormones and emotions fluctuate daily, they can be divided into three chronotypes:

  1. Early birds, who produce cortisol much earlier in the day and thus wake up earlier and have their energy peak in the morning;
  2. Hummingbirds, whose cortisol decreases in the afternoon, so that they may experience an afternoon energy dip;
  3. Night owls, who produce melatonin much later, and hence are often active much later and have difficulty getting up in the morning.

You can test your own chronotype with a questionnaire here: https://chronotype-self-test.info/

What is chronocrafting and why to do it?

Figure 2. The hummingbird’s diurnal cycles of positive (Happy, Enjoy) and negative (Impatient, Worry) emotions (Stone et al. 2006). Click to open a larger picture.

Being aware of these chronotypes, along with the energy peaks and dips, can be very helpful in efficiently scheduling working tasks and making the best use of an individual’s energy. This is called ‘chronocrafting’. Work can be done during both peaks and dips, but the activity itself can differ (Figure 3).

  • During the energy peaks – detailed work, activities with high workloads and physical work can be done better.
  • During the energy dips – creative, social and routine work is recommended, as they are re-energising activities.

Different aspects of energy at work are related to positive outcomes both at and outside of work. People who are chronocrafting, are found to be more productive and creative at work. They also feel happiness, and experience flow and more control about their daily tasks. Additionally, according to studies, chronocrafting reduces stress and fatigue in people.

Figure 3. An example of scheduling working tasks for a hummingbird. For early birds the rhythm could be 1-3 hours earlier, and for night owls later. Click to open a larger picture.

In the CARVE project’s Finnish measurements the chronotype fit to work schedules was significantly correlated to subjective alertness, mood, performance and stress at work, and to overall quality of working life (Figure 4). Also, the quality of working life was significantly correlated to chronocrafting, and performance, alertness and mood at work (Figure 5). So, you can improve your work well-being with living by your own chronotype and taking your energy levels into account when scheduling working tasks.

The CARVE HR manual – A way to work on energy at work in your organization

Figure 4. The chronotype fit’s correlations to quality of working life, alertness, mood, performance and stress at work. Click to open a larger picture.

Therefore, it would be very important to “make work of energy at work”. This is a shared responsibility of both employees and employers. In an international CARVE project between Finland, Belgium, and Bulgaria, we developed a Practical Guide (CARVE HR manual) to make a start as an organisation to collaboratively work on an energizing workplace.

This HR manual can be used by those actors that are involved in setting up the organisation’s well-being policy such as HR-staff of prevention advisors. The guide consists of two main parts. The first part of the guide lays out the route with different stops. At each stop, tips, advice and templates are given on how to achieve each of the actions described (Figure 6).

Figure 5. The quality of working life’s correlations to performance, alertness and mood at work, and chronocrafting.

The second part of the guide consists of evidence-based insights and tips on how to work on each of the following types of energy: physical energy (e.g. health), mental energy (e.g. concentration), emotional energy (e.g. connectedness) and spiritual energy (e.g. values and goals) (main picture). Although the different forms of energy are discussed separately, they do not work separately, but affect each other. As an organisation, you may start with the type of energy that best fits the organization’s and its employees’ needs, but it is important not to lose sight of the other types.

The CARVE E-learnings – An interactive and scalable way for promoting energy at work

A part of the project’s success story is the platform www.actauni.com, developed jointly by the project partners. ActaUni aims to accumulate knowledge about how we manage personal energy at the individual and organizational levels so that employees are more motivated and efficient, healthier and happier, and companies are more competitive and profitable.

Figure 6. The CARVE HR manual road map for energizing workplace. Click to open a larger picture.

ActaUni offers trainings at individual and team levels on circadian energy and chronotype, work energy and job crafting, as well as on physiological energy and sleep. The total 7 pieces of trainings were developed as e-learning courses available in 3 languages – English, Flemish, and Bulgarian. At this stage, the platform does not require registration to access the training content, so it is very easily accessible.

Through the platforms the managers and HR professionals can use online or download the Practical Guide ”How to Work on Energy at Work” (https://actauni.com/hr/), which was mentioned in the previous section. The document is organized on a modular basis and each organization can, according to its needs, start from a certain stage of the process and ”assemble” its own Guide and methodology.

In addition, ActaUni offers a space where one can share knowledge and experience, become a trainer and publish own courses. The step-by-step guide helps to do this with minimum effort, and the team of our partner Idein, who led the development of the platform, is always available for support.

About the project

CARVE project (Circadian Activity Revitalizing Vocational Energy) is funded by European Social Fund in the years 2019-2021.

In Finland the project is implemented in Active Life Lab, a research and development unit of the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk), which works in the premises of Saimaa Stadium, established in 2018 in Mikkeli. Active Life Lab carries out its mission by systematically gathering information on the effectiveness of wellbeing services, conducting cutting-edge research to develop services, and applying this knowledge in practice with the partners. For more information, visit https://www.xamk.fi/en/rdi/active-life-lab/.

In Belgium the project is implemented by KU Leuven University and IDEWE (External Service for Prevention and Protection at work). KU Leuven is a world-renowned university, that has a reputation for being very innovative (Reuters innovative universities list). It houses experts in e.g., sleep, work-psychology, and wellbeing and has successfully completed many international projects in the past. IDEWE supports organizations in the construction and implementation of their well-being policy. As such, IDEWE aims to contribute to the physical and psychological integrity of citizens and prevent damage to their living and working environment. For more information, visit https://www.kuleuven.be/english/.

In Bulgaria the project is implemented by Idein Ltd. a leading Bulgarian consultancy company with more than 15 years of experience in the field of project management and implementation. The project is related to one of the key areas of expertise of the company, namely – the application of innovative approaches to the labor market and the workforce in Bulgaria. For more information, visit www.idein.eu.

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