Today, I spoke to Tony Schwartz, who is President and CEO of The Energy Project, and author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance. In this book, Tony talks about why workers are disengaged, how to treat workers differently in the workplace, the four forgotten needs of that energize great performance, and more.

What is The Energy Project and how did you originally get involved in it?

The Energy Project helps individuals and organizations better deal with demand by teaching them how to manage personal energy rather than time. Time is finite, and few of us have any left to invest. Energy can be systematically expanded and renewed. In physics, energy is just the capacity to do work, so if we can give you ways to increase your energy, we’re giving you ways to increase your capacity. The company was founded 8 years ago, and our work is deeply grounded in the science of high performance. I

It so happens that human beings have four separate energy needs: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. We teach individuals how to systematically build and regularly renew energy across each of those dimensions. We’ve done this in a range of forward thinking organizations including Sony, Google, Ford, Ernst and Young and many others. Now we’re beginning to make these strategies available to individuals.

Why are workers disengaged these days, even despite new technology?

They’re disengaged because they’re overwhelmed by the volume of demand and the overload of information. When we move into overload, we begin to shut down. It’s an instinctive response to the experience of threat. We start to feel anxious, or frustrated, or hopeless, and those aren’t emotions that serve high performance. Everyone knows that the way we’re working isn’t working — that’s why I gave my new book that title — but no one knows exactly what to do about it. We’ve layed out a roadmap by which people can take back their lives — become more productive and more satisfied. We help organizations invest in meeting their people’s needs to help make that possible.

Do you believe in pushing people to do more in less time?

We believe in a paradigm shift from treating people as if they’re computers — capable of working at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time — to recognizing that human beings are designed to move between spending and renewing energy. We’re hardwired to make waves — to pulse. We know people are indeed capable of getting more done in less time, but not by pushing themselves harder. Instead, the key is to work for short periods, intensely, with singular focus, and then take true renewal breaks to refuel. Build that rhythm into your life and you’ll quickly see how much more you get done, while still feeling refreshed at the end of a day.

What are the four forgotten needs that energize great performance and why were they forgotten?

The forgotten needs are sustainability (physical); security (emotional); self-expression (mental); and significance (spiritual). These needs have been well known for thousands of years — Aristotle talked about them, in his own way. The psychologist Abraham Maslow described them as the “hierarchy of needs” using his own language for them. To address these needs requires an awareness of what we’re feeling, and what’s going on inside us. Many of us are moving too fast for that. We’re too busy getting things done, and racing to try to keep up. To make that possible, we often go numb to our needs — and to the costs of not addressing them. Ironically, it’s only when we truly meet these needs that we’re capable of truly operating at our best. The specific strategies for doing so are at the heart of the work we do with individuals, leaders and organizations.

What are some ways to get people energized at work, without overworking them?

They follow from what I’ve already said.

The first key is recognizing that we can’t just spend energy and expect that we’ll always have plenty available. At both the individual and the organizational level, we need to begin to value and honor the role that refueling ourselves plays in performing at a high level, sustainably. We’re
hardwired to work in 90 minute cycles. Go longer than that and you’re drawing on your reserves — stress hormones such as adrenalin, cortisol and noradrenaline, which are unhealthy when they circulate in the system too long, and also serve to shut down the prefrontal cortex, so we become more reactive and less reflective. With that in mind, taking time to renew throughout our days serves us well personally and professionally.

The second key way to energize people at work is to meet their four core needs. When people are healthier, happier, more focused and more passionate about what they’re doing, they’re plainly more engaged and they perform better. In the face of high demand, we tend to try to get more out of ourselves, and so do the organizations that employ us. The paradigm shift in this case is to focus on investing more in ourselves, so that we’re freed, fueled and inspired to perform at our best every day.


Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony has spent 30 years studying, writing about, teaching and coaching people in how to perform at their best. Tony’s most recent book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time, co-authored with Jim Loehr, was a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller, spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into 28 languages. He co-authored the #1 worldwide bestseller The Art of the Deal with Donald Trump and also wrote What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America. Tony’s new book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance, is due out in May 2010.