How to manage your energy in a global role

Photo by Aoumeur Abderrahmen on Unsplash
Photo by Aoumeur Abderrahmen on Unsplash

Having just returned from our annual family skiing trip I have been reminded of how important it is to conserve and restore your energy resources. A few consecutive, full days of skiing can easily sap your physical energy. But we all know that our mental energy is a finite resource as well.

And sometimes it just takes longer to recharge your batteries, as several high-profile examples have shown. On January 26 Jürgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool football club, announced that he would step down at the end of the season because he didn’t have the necessary energy to continue. In the political realm, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stepped down in January 2023 because she was running of energy. In the corporate world, business leaders similarly grapple with the intensity of their job demands. Jeffrey Kindler, Pfizer’s CEO, who resigned in 2010 is a case in point. But a Deloitte survey suggests that a whopping 70% of executives considered leaving their jobs for workplaces that care more for their well-being.

Managing your energy resources is particularly important in a global role, where you have to work across borders, travel frequently to meet stakeholders, and manage a dispersed, multicultural team. Have you ever experienced the exhaustion after a full day of navigating a foreign context in a language you do not speak very well? And even if all your interlocutors converse in English, being alert to the various cultural differences and the different possible interpretations of what is being said adds complexity to your typical day. Regular international business travel puts yet more strain to your mental resources. Consider the results of a medical study that compared almost 3,000 expatriates with around 12,000 non-expatriates and found that expatriates were much more likely to contract sickness after travel. In other words, any international travel is demanding given the time and climate zone differences you are exposed to, but it is more taxing on frequent travellers.

So how can you manage your energy in a global role?

An easy and yet so difficult one is to be conscious of your daily habits, including a balanced and regular diet, as well as a good nights sleep. If your work, especially physical work, bridges time zones, getting your regular fix of restorative sleep may be more difficult. But it is not impossible if you may consider sacrificing other, less essential activities. And if you observe the amount of alcohol consumed in a typical airport lounge, it is fairly easy to see that our nutritional value during business travel tends to be suboptimal.

Rethinking what really constitutes essential international travel is another way to help your energy tank remain intact. I am all for physical interaction and indeed believe that it is necessary for a host of business activities. But the ease with which we can book and embark on an international flight often makes it tempting to meet physically when a virtual encounter could do the trick as well. While the COVID-19 pandemic helped us to reevaluate travel needs, we seem to be reverting to old habits. One executive I talked to during the early days of the pandemic lockdown quipped that the pandemic had simply removed the temptation to travel. In other words, you may need to regulate your temptation to travel as much as you need to self-regulate your choice of a drink in a lounge that has an abundant offering.

If your day involves virtual interactions with different time zone regions – early morning calls with Asia, followed by late afternoon meetings with colleagues in the Americas, be sure to introduce a good break at midday. You could earmark the lunch hour with physical exercise followed by a replenishing meal, for example. And when your global team works around the clock, it is even more important to draw clear boundaries between work and non-work hours for each team member, to the extent this is possible.

Companies can help balance their employees’ energy stocks as well. For example, ten years ago already German car manufacturer Daimler introduced a system that automatically deletes all emails that are being sent to an employee who is on holiday and notifies the sender accordingly. Rather than being shocked with hundreds of unanswered emails upon your return, you can ease back into your work rhythm and sustain the benefits of  your break a little longer. While the general response to this approach appeared widely positive, there are still few other companies following suit. Of course, this may not work in every executive position but the example shows that it sometimes just takes small nudges to achieve relevant benefits for your wellbeing at work.

Finally, if possible, you may also consider sharing international travel demands in a more equitable manner, just like you might rotate virtual meetings with your global team so that not the same members always have to stay up late.

And indeed, sometimes a skiing trip, even though it saps your physical energy, does wonders in replenishing your mental resources!

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