You Only Have So Much To Give


You have to love working for a Manager who demands you give it all you’ve got; then when you empty the tank, they question your commitment and willingness to go above and beyond. Where exactly do they think that extra energy is going to come from when you’ve nothing left to give?

Imagine an hourglass if you will, just turned upside down and the grains of sand rushing out the narrow opening and spilling into the bottom half. When those grains are falling, let’s see your productivity at it’s highest. There’s so much sand in the upper half, pressure and gravity come together to keep the sand moving quickly. However, as time elapses, so too does the quantity of sand remaining. Much of the sand is spent and collected in the bottom half, and there’s less pressure being exerted on the remaining grains. Some might actually adhere to the glass and not fall through without a gentle tap on the sides. Eventually, all the grains drop and there’s no more to be had; your productivity is similarly spent.

Like that hourglass, you’re energy is done, you’ve left it all on the work floor. While it’s easy to reach over and flip that hourglass so the process can be repeated, people don’t work the same way. Oh sure we all have some reserves to tap into, but those reserves are also finite. You just can’t keep expecting an inexhaustible amount of energy to be exerted of anyone. People are not perpetual motion machines.

Here’s where the hourglass analogy fails though. When looking at the hourglass, we can visually see how much sand is in each end. We can then at a glance tell how much is left for the upper half of the hourglass to give. People on the other hand; you and me, not so easy to tell at a glance how much we’re holding back and how much we’ve got left to give – if any.

When you go out to buy an hourglass, you’ll find big ones, small ones, and some timers that look like an hourglass only have enough sand to fall for a minute. Others are 3 minutes, 30 minutes etc. In other words, while we might mistakenly ask for an hourglass, we don’t actually want one where the sand will fall for an hour. We still might call it an hourglass. It’s really a sand timer or sand clock.

In your workplace, you can probably think of people who seem to have an abundance of energy. They are productive when they first arrive to work and they seem to pick up speed as the day goes on and when they leave at the end of the day, they still have a bounce in their step. Just as easily, you know the other types of people where you work who start off productive and in short order they need a break to recharge. They go in spurts, needing breaks or their lunch/dinner time to find the energy needed to complete their work and then they race out the door at the end of the day, entirely spent.  Different people, different sizes of hourglasses if you will.

Poor managers don’t get this though. They see some employees as if they were intentionally holding back, tipping their hourglass at a 45 degree angle so some sand remains lodged in the upper half and not giving it their all. Even when someone looks exhausted, the poor manager has a pep talk or cracks a whip expecting more; expecting the employee to jump up and be fully productive as if they just flipped that hourglass. But each employee is a varying size of sandglass. What some supervisors fail to understand is that by the time someone arrives at work, they’ve already spent some of the energy they had earlier. Not everyone arrives fresh, fully ready to go, and not everyone works at the same pace. Some have to work conservatively if they are to make it through the day. Unfortunately, some in management hold up the one employee as a shining example for the rest and compare each employee to the one with the seemingly endless energy. “I need you to be more like ________.”

Rest, sleep, drink, food and time; these are some of the typical things people need to re-energize. We can only give so much and then if we aren’t provided with ways to build our energy back up – or we fail to take measures ourselves to increase our stores of energy, we’re in trouble. Our bodies will take measures into their own hands and either illness or total exhaustion will shut us down. Our brains might be willing, but our bodies only have so much to give.

So we have to look out for ourselves and for each other. When you work for a good manager or supervisor, they get this too. Sure there are times when the old, “we all have to give more” speech rally’s us for a short-time. But when that short period evolves into our everyday work environment, don’t be surprised when staff start failing; calling in ill, taking time off more often, perhaps leaving for other jobs, or taking mental health leaves. The accumulative impact of this is the same workload spread even more upon those remaining. You can’t get more out of those already giving it their all.

Thoughts?