Relational energy - what it is and why it matters to organisations

Relational Energy: what it is and why it matters to organisations


Relational Energy Briefing


What is relational energy?

Relational energy refers to the positive feeling and sense of increased resourcefulness experienced as a direct result of an interaction with someone else. Some people seem to increase our energy, positivity and sense of resourcefulness whilst others either have no impact or drain our energy.


Relational energy

Video – what is relational energy and why is it important in organisations


Current state of relational energy research

Whilst the total number of research papers about relational energy is small, around 76 this year (2018) so far, is clearly becoming an area of increasing interest in the organisational research literature having gone from almost zero interest in 2010 (8 studies).

Recent previous studies about relational energy have shown that positive energy emanating from one individual can have a direct positive impact on the motivation of others at work. Indeed, a number of studies (2011 and 2012) have shown that the energy levels of individuals can be contagious. A 2003 study found that teams frequently perform in a way that matches the perceived energy within the team. In other words, where there is considered to be a negative energy, teams tend to perform significantly worse than teams that are considered to comprise of individuals with a positive energy.

‘Energy’ within this context refers to how employees are ‘mentally engaged, enthused and willing to commit efforts to possibilities’ whilst engaging in their work. The idea of relational energy is that energy is both generated and transmitted between people who are in contact with each other.


Why relational energy is important – Positive energy in the workplace

A number of previous studies found that positive energy significantly increases individuals:

  • Resources
  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Creativity
  • Flexibility
  • Productivity
  • Learning capacity


And a range of other attributes. Two 2016 studies found that positive energy not only increases individual productivity but also:

  • Mitigates the effects of stress
  • Increases employee engagement
  • Increases speed with which employees carry out tasks
  • Increases job satisfaction


As a result of these and other findings the idea of relational energy and how people, particularly leaders and managers, can increase (or decrease) the positive energy within their organisations is becoming a focal question.

Clearly the impact of an interaction with the leader or a manager can result in either a positive, neutral or negative impact on an individual’s energy.


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Amah, O. E. (2018). Leadership styles and relational energy: Do all leaderships styles generate and transmit equal relational energy?. South African Journal of Business Management49(1), 6.

Amah, O. E. (2017). Leadership styles & relational energy in high quality mentoring relationship. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 53(1), 59-72.

Borgatti, S. P., & Cross, R. (2003). A relational view of information seeking and learning in social networks. Management science, 49(4), 432-445.

Brockner, J. & Higgins, E.T., 2001, ‘Regulatory focus theory: Implications for the study of emotions at work’, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process 86, 35–66.

Cummings, G. (2004). Investing relational energy: the hallmark of resonant leadership. Nursing Leadership (Toronto, Ont.), 17(4), 76-87.

Cummings, G. (2012). Your leadership style–how are you working to achieve a preferred future?. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 21(23-24), 3325-3327.

Kark, R. & van Dijk, D., 2007, ‘Motivation to lead, motivation to follow: The role of self- regulatory focus in leadership process’, Academy of Management Review 32(2), 500–528.

McDaniel, D. M. (2011). Energy at work: A multinational, cross-situational investigation of relational energy. University of California, Irvine.

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.

Saeed, T., Almas, S., Anis-ul-Haq, M. & Niazi, G.S.K., 2014, ‘Leadership styles: Relationship with conflict management styles’, International Journal of Conflict Management 25(3), 214–225.



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