Team Management Systems

Psychic and Mental Energy: Exploring the human generator

By Joppie Van Graan and Ian Rothmann.
Copyright © Joppie Van Graan and Ian Rothmann. All rights reserved.

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The paper is written by Joppie Van Graan and Ian Rothmann. The purpose of this paper is to report on the results of a part of an ongoing research project. The aim of the main project is to explore the psychodynamics of preferences, as well as the relationship between preferences on the one hand and the nature and utilization of human energy on the other hand.

The paper presented will focus on both a theoretical and research perspective. Specific conclusions in terms of the underlying psychodynamic forces determining preferences, the typification of mental and psychic energy, the typification of extroverted and introverted interaction, as well as cross ethnicity preferences, will be reported.

A written paper, describing the problem statement, developing of the research questions, methodology, results, interpretation of the results, conclusions and recommendations can be obtained on request.

Paper/Conference Notes

1. Rationale

Moments before entering the lecture hall to deliver a paper on stress at the annual board meeting of a large conglomerate the chairman of the board called me aside and said "Just keep in mind, this (obviously referring to the culture of the organization) is a man's world. Here you have to be able to 'take it'". I could not help myself and responded: "Oh? That is very interesting. Take what? And after you have taken 'it, are you going to give 'it' back?". The chairman (a Scot from the 'laddie ye know' - school) chuckled and said: "Ye know laddie, that is a bloody good question. But whatever the 'it' is, you better be able to take it, otherwise you are not going to make it".

So, what is the 'it' that the chairman referred to? 'It' usually refers to pressure, challenges, or demands put to an individual during his normal working day - in short, stress . The perceived consequences of the individual not 'taking/making it' is so disastrous to any working person that he or she will die (sometimes literally) before acknowledging defeat or seeking help. Huge amounts of psychic energy is used to deny the fact that he or she is not 'making/taking it', resulting in a total depletion of energy. Because of this depletion the individual is even less able to 'take/make it' resulting in more energy used for defence and less for growth. Eventually the individual will run out of energy, fizzle at the seams and simply either comes to a stop or displays an extremely high level of aimless activity.

A dangerous implication of this conditioned response is that it is accepted that those individuals who are not able to 'take it' are weak and should be either avoided, ignored or their services even terminated. It is also horrifyingly clear that the concept, construct, process or whatever underlies, determines, guides or manages the 'taking' of 'it' is known only to hose who determine whether others are able to 'take it' or not. The individual doesn't have any idea at all what is happening to him, what 'it' is, what he should change to 'take it', or 'make it', or what the consequences are should he not be able to 'take/make it'.

"This is a man's world" Tragically stress has become a powerful status symbol. One gets the impression that an ulcer seems to be part and parcel of the executive perks although it is actually a strong indication of a malfunctioning and a protest from the body; a heart bypass is not only an extremely delicate operation but could also be an indication of the level of stress experienced. Yet many people will talk about these operations as if they are indicators of the amount they can 'take'. Alcoholic consumption is, in many instances, a strong indicator of the amount (literally) that a person is able to 'take', while he is enthusiastically excused if he is not able to 'make' it for a few days. The fact that a person is deliberately waiting for the final urgent warning to board a plane, thereby showing that he is a seasoned traveler, and not one of the 'rookies' moving at the first sign of activity at the boarding gate, is also an indication of the frequency he is away from home. The expression 'he works hard but also plays hard' can indicate an adulterous proof of a person's ability to 'take it', although the other party is sometimes the only witness of an inability to 'make it'. The fact that a person works a twenty hour day, is often an indication of his inability to plan and organize, or of his fear of losing control if he is not present, or it could be an indication of his reluctance to go home.

I am not blaming or attacking the organization for the inability of some individuals to cope with the demands put to them. Neither am I trying to imply that the majority of individuals will not be able to 'make/take it'. I am not even trying to argue that standards should be lowered or tasks made easier so that more individuals will be able to make/take it' and the level of health increased. Also I am not trying to advocate that a high level of achievement motivation or even hard work should be branded as the common enemy and destroyed at all costs.

On the other hand, I have seen too many people reduced to pathetic living organisms because somebody told them, at the age of thirty, forty-six, fifty, fifty-five or, even worse, sixty-three, that he or she is not 'making it'. True, in most cases this judgment is correct, they are not making it. They find it difficult to cope with the demands of their job, they make mistakes, loose their temper, they cannot make decisions, they compulsively procrastinate and avoid risk taking, they sometimes lie, cheat, try to shift the blame or to cover up - in short, they are not 'making it'. Even worse, many times the 'tellers-of-others-that-they-are-not-making-it', acknowledged in private consultation with me, that they know that they are equally to be blamed for the inability of their subordinates to 'make it'. They themselves are so caught up in coping with the increasing pressure of the pincer, or trying to 'make it' themselves, that they do not have the time, or energy, to intervene in time. Even if they do have the time, many of them told me that they do not really know what to do, or what they are actually doing wrong. Furthermore, because of the prohibitive cost of not 'making it', the majority of individuals will go to any lengths to pretend that they are able to cope, and that only the weak are experiencing stress. In the process they are using enormous amounts of psychic and physical energy for defending and pretending instead of implementing it for growth. Obviously this situation cannot be tolerated. South Africa needs the optimum performance of each and every one of our managers. We cannot afford to loose one experienced, mature manager. Neither can we afford the allocation of energy in unproductive areas. We need to stimulate the growth of each manager, and team, to the optimum in order to enable them, not only to cope with the pain of the pincer, but also to force the two halves apart. Tragically we are trying to rescue a lot of endangered wildlife species, while neglecting our most valuable endangered species - mature and experienced managers, and management teams.

What can be done about this? Obviously this problem is not new and many organizations are spending enormous amounts of money and time trying to improve the skills level of their existing and new manager sin order to give them the tools to combat this pressure. UP to now they have been only partly successful if one should take the unacceptably high turnover rate among younger managers and professionals as an indication. It also seems that the reasons given for leaving are in the majority of cases negative (i.e., people leave because something in their existing environment push them away) rather than positive (i.e., people leave because something in the new environment pulled them towards that environment).

Looking from my point of view, and based on ever increasing experience gained from ongoing investigation in various companies, the overall level of experienced burnout is unacceptably high. Although it tends to peak at the end of each year, the intensity level of experienced burnout, calculated over the last five years, seems to get higher every year. This suggests that the residual symptomatology of burnout gets more intense every year, leading to higher levels of experienced stress during the year and thus enhancing the possibility of eventual total burnout.

So, what is the 'it' or stress then? Is it this monstrosity that should be attacked from all sides and killed, destroyed and annihilated? Often, when talking to executives on the subject of stress I ask them: 'Do you experience stress?' More often than not the majority will reply defensively 'NO!', or with resentment 'YES!', or cautiously 'SOMETIMES!'.

Is stress all that bad?

Of course not. Stress is motivation, enthusiasm, resilience, persistence - in other words, pulsating human energy , and like all types of energy it should be handled with care and caution. Without stress, life and achievement is impossible.

2. Energy: Exploring unproved assumptions

2.1 The generator within

I believe that each one of us is created with a dynamo or generator, designed to generate energy. What is, however, important is that this generator is within the individual, making him or her master of his or her own energy. We have the power, but also the responsibility to decide on how much energy should go where and when. Many times we fail to realize this as we feel overpowered by the energy demands put to us. We feel trapped and helpless to do anything about the enormous outflow of energy building up a lot of resentment and frustration because we feel that we are not in control of our own destiny.

2.2 Be careful, the generator has a capacity

I believe that the human generator, like all other generators, is created with a fixed capacity of energy output, and can produce only that amount of energy it has been created for. Obviously people will differ in capacities. Some people will have huge generators that can generate high levels of energy, while others have smaller generators with lower levels of energy. But, no matter the size of the generator, it still has a capacity. If a person operates his or her generator at full capacity without maintenance, or beyond capacity, it will eventually break down. Therefore the individual should identify the capacity of their own generator and should be educated to maintain the generator. 'Leaks' in the generator should be identified and ways to 'plug' these leaks should be identified.

2.3 Optimizing energy output

Although the final output of energy for any given energy generator is fixed, output can, as in the case of any generator, be optimized through effective utilization. This can, for example, be done by preventing the generator from operating unnecessarily, running at too high revolutions, generating more energy than is being demanded by the environment or by concentrating the energy outflow towards the most important demand. People should be encouraged to accept that energy is a scarce commodity and that it should be used sparingly and for the optimum effect.

2.4 Characteristics

  • The energy generated by the generator is ' pure ', and is neither 'positive' or 'negative', 'good' or 'bad'. Energy simply 'is'.

  • Energy cannot be destroyed. Burnout is the result of the mismanagement of energy where the outflow of energy chronically exceeds the capacity. Post traumatic stress is the result of an explosive outflow of energy forcing the generator into a state of shock.

2.5 Types of energy

All generators generating electrical energy are designed to generate one type of energy, namely electricity. The human generator on the other hand, generates different types of energy. Although these types are quite distinct, they are absolute interrelated and operate on the gestalt principle, constituting the personality of the individual.

  • The first type is physical energy . Through metabolism the body is able to generate energy for autonomous functions, activities and behaviors.

  • The second type is mental energy . This refers to thinking, reasoning and solving of problems.

  • The third type is psychic energy , referring to enthusiasm, drive, and resilience.

  • The fourth type is sexual energy , referring to the primeval urge to procreate.

  • The fifth type is religious or spiritual energy . This is the purest form of energy and creates an environment of vibrancy. It is all encompassing and creates an environment for the human generator to optimize its capacity.

2.6 The utilization of energy

  • The utilization of human energy can be depicted on a continuum, moving from a defending 'have to' mode through homeostasis or balance (stagnation) to a growing ('want to') mode. Physical energy's nature is to constantly move towards homeostasis and balance, while mental, psychic and sexual energy is able to move through balance towards growth.

  • The majority of humans use the major portion of their mental and psychic energy to defend, to prevent and for 'have to' purposes. Our core purpose in life is to stabilize and to survive. For growth we need to understand that energy should be applied towards 'want to' purposes, deliberately moving through the point of balance towards controlled unbalance.

  • 'Have to' utilization of mental and psychic energy leads to an intense outflow of energy, fatigue, feelings of resentment, helplessness and hopelessness.

  • 'Want to' utilization of mental and psychic energy is the ideal and purest form of energy utilization, because it allows for the optimum use of capacities, as well as the flow-back of energy in terms of self-actualization.

3. Energy Zappers

Over the years I have compiled the following list of energy zappers. Obviously this list reflects only the more generic zappers, and does not allow for unique zappers.

3.1 Intrapersonal

  • Unclear or ambiguous preferences.
  • Clash between prefers ('want-to') and reality ('have-to').
  • Type-A personality - level of impatience and focus on the achieving of short term end-results.
  • Poor self-concept - energy is applied to defend and to move 'away-from' instead of 'towards-to'.
  • Open jugular
  • Needs that are not satisfied.
  • External locus of control.
  • Lack of experience skills and aptitude.
  • Trauma, either surfaced or repressed.

3.2 Interpersonal

  • Lack of social support.
  • Responsibility for people.
  • Separation.
  • Destructive conflict.

3.3 Organizational

3.3.1 Intrinsic to the job

  • Qualitative overload
  • Quantitative overload
  • Under-load
  • Time pressures/deadlines
  • Working conditions
  • Mistakes
  • Too many decisions
  • Too much information/time
  • Not enough information/time

3.3.2 Role in organization

  • Role ambiguity
  • Role conflict
  • Too little responsibility
  • No participation in the decision-making
  • Responsibility for people
  • Responsibility for things
  • Lack of managerial support
  • Increasing standards of acceptable performance
  • Organizational boundaries

3.3.3 Relations with organization

  • Poor relations with boss
  • Poor relations with colleagues and subordinates
  • Difficulties in delegating responsibility
  • Personality conflicts

3.3.4 Career development

  • Over promotion
  • Under promotion
  • Lack of job security
  • Fear of redundancy, retrenchment or retirement
  • Fear of obsolescence
  • Thwarted ambition
  • Sense of being trapped

3.3.5 Organizational structure and climate

  • Restrictions on behavior e.g. budgets
  • Lack of effective consultation and communication
  • Uncertainty about what is happening
  • No sense of belonging
  • Loss of identity
  • Office politics
  • Management style
  • Organizational culture
  • Learning curve of industry or system
  • Affirmative action

3.3.6 Organization interface with outside

  • Divided loyalties (company vs. own)
  • Conflict - family demands

4. Conclusion

As the purpose of this paper is to explore rather than to inform, I do appreciate that it will generate more questions than providing answers. On the other hand the concept of human energy and the impact thereof on the optimization of performance is still in the conceptual phase. I believe that the following questions need to be answered:

  • Is it possible to measure the capacities of the different types of energy for any individual?

  • Is it possible to identify and typify the utilization of the different types of energy?

  • Is it possible to devise a method or system whereby the interaction between the different types of energy can be optimized in terms of both capacity and utilization?

  • What is the relationship between energy (capacity and utilization) on the one hand, and competencies on the other hand?

  • What are the dynamics underlying preferences?

  • Is it possible to create a method whereby the energy and competencies of any individual can be project against the energy and competency requirements of a particular situation whereby an optimal person-environment-fit could be done?

  • Is it possible to make a gap analysis based on the projection, and to develop a growth plan for the individual?

Copyright © Joppie Van Graan and Ian Rothmann. All rights reserved.

Joppie Van Graan & Associates
PO Box 4805, 1900 Vanderbijlpark, South Africa

Joppie van Graan is an Associate Professor in Industrial Psychology at the Vaal Triangle Campus of the University of the North-West in Vanderbijlpark. He is also the Senior Associate of Joppie van Graan & Associates, a consulting firm operating in South Africa for the past 15 years. He focuses on teambuilding, development of human potential and the study of human energy. He uses the Team Management Profile Questionnaire extensively as a vehicle to understand and to optimize the free flow of energy.

His coauthor of the paper is Dr Ian Rothmann who is a senior lecturer at Potchefstroom University. Ian lectures postgraduate students in industrial psychology and is a senior associate of Joppie van Graan & Associates. He specializes on the synergizing of interpersonal relations and team processes.


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