Energy efficiency in the 21st century

by Craig Nudelman

I don’t know how many of you know this, but each year, May is energy month in South Africa. 

I find this particularly ironic, since energy is a major issue all year round (isn’t loadshedding just wonderful?). The government has designated many different issues to different months. For example, October is National Marine Month, when we should be made aware of our coastal and marine environments. And, although this has not been given a whole month, just a week, 13 to 19 November is Internal Fraud Awareness Week. This, according to the government’s website, ‘encourages business leaders and employees to proactively take steps to minimise the impact of fraud by promoting anti-fraud awareness and education.’ Whether this has been effectively communicated to all South Africans is to be confirmed, but we live in hope.

Anyway, back to energy! We can understand ‘energy’ according to government’s definition as powering the country via Eskom and using fossil fuels for our motor vehicles. The government’s website even gives tips on how to reduce our personal energy consumption. Twelve for our personal energy use at home, and twelve for our vehicles. Another way to think about ‘energy’ however, is through the lense of physical, mental, and emotional energy. 

I think it’s quite appropriate to speak about this, especially as 1 May is Workers’ Day. This offers a chance to reflect: where should we prioritise our own energy and how should we manage it daily? It is especially important in contemporary times, where ‘work-life balance’ is a key term used to emphasise the need for spending more time on ourselves to be more productive at work. 

I’ve been watching a show on Apple TV+ called Severance. It is a fascinating show and I recommend it to everyone. It is about a company called Lumon which has developed a technique to ‘sever’ people’s work and personal lives. Lumon’s employees’ ‘outies’ don’t know what happens at work, and their ‘innies’ don’t know their personal lives, which could affect their work productivity. I won’t get into the details, but it’s an interesting concept of whether we can sever our work and personal lives, and what the effect would be for us. Is it possible for our work to be completely separated from what happens to us on a day-to-day basis?

The answer to that is “probably not”, according to most psychologists and businesspeople, especially during Covid, where work-from-home has become the norm in many companies and organisations. Dr Melba Nicholson Sullivan, writing for, suggests that we can no longer use the term ‘balance’, but rather try for a ‘work/life blend’. To balance work and life becomes difficult, especially as we spend a third of our lives working, according to researchers. Sullivan explains that we can’t see work and life as two opposite ends of a spectrum. Instead, she states, “Your work and your life exist at the same time. Sometimes, that means you have to work outside of normal working hours, while other times it means you have to handle ‘life things’ during your workday.” During the pandemic this was especially important, as Zoom fatigue and constant emailing did not allow us to focus on our mental health or our personal relationships with those important to us. 

The blend approach, according to Sullivan, will ensure a culture of transparency and trust between employers and employees. As a double-income household, when Gabi or I can’t pick up Jessie or Livi from school or an extramural, we need to help the other out. In a traditional 9-to-5 work environment, this would not be possible. However, with the flexibility that we have now been afforded, as long as we get the job done within the time provided, we can also find ourselves and our relationships. 

This fluidity is important, not only for employees but also for employers. Retention of workers has become a big issue within the past decade. In the US, the turnover rate would be concerning to any company. In 2018 the turnover rate was 27% and in 2019 it was 36%. Not only that, but before Covid, an employee would have stayed 4.2 years at a single company before moving on to ‘greener pastures’. Steve Cadigan, a global talent strategist and author of Workquake, Embracing the Aftershocks of COVID-19 to Create a Better Model of Working states that we are going to end up in, what he calls, the ‘Great Resignation’. According to Cadigan, “Forty percent of people are considering quitting their jobs, and the highest number of voluntary resignations ever has already been recorded.” He further says that, even though the US has 8.4 million people unemployed (at the end of 2021), there were 10 million jobs available across the country. 

To retain employees, employers must ensure that they create an energy-efficient work environment. The Harvard Business Review published an article about this 15 years ago, where Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy spoke about the physical, emotional, and mental tolls that our jobs demand of us. With constant access to work emails, texts, and phone calls, jobs have become increasingly demanding. They say that this has created “declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction, high turnover rates, and soaring medical costs among employees”. 

Although time may be finite, our energy can be increased by employers shifting away from the traditional expectations of working at a desk from 9-to-5 and milking maximum productivity from employees at any cost. The blended approach — of getting things done efficiently without compromising your mental, physical, and emotional energy — is an important way to ensure a positive work environment. 

So, here are some tips from the government to be more energy efficient (insert metaphors as you will):

Don’t fill the kettle — only boil the water that you need

Switch off all appliances when they are not in use

Turn the lights off when you leave a room

Lighten the load in your vehicle

Travel early/later to avoid known traffic areas

Change gears according to your speed

We can only be productive if we look after ourselves. So, to avoid personal loadshedding, make sure you use your energy as efficiently as possible, without compromising on the essentials.

Craig is a writer, Jewish professional, and tour guide extraordinaire. His deep bass voice has graced stages, synagogues and studios. He is an obedient husband, father to two spectacular daughters, and is known for dad jokes and trivia.

Published in the PDF edition of the May 2022 issue – Click here to read it.

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