top of page

Load Management for Corporate Athletes - Part 1



With the majority of athletes in the world actually being recreational as opposed to professional, most athletes earn a living through a job or career. Today's post is just the first of many for an ongoing interest of mine in hopes that it can help others improve their performance at the workplace and quality of life outside of it. While not directly related to strength training or athletic performance per se, managing stress at the workplace is important for both your family, career, in addition to any athletic or extracurricular pursuits in your life. To that end, in this post I'd like to explore a concept popularized by the NBA in recent years called "Load Management." More specifically, I'd like to explore how it can be applied to everyday people like you and me.


First, we'll do a brief overview of where we stand when it comes to load management in the corporate environment. From there, we'll start imagining what load management could be. We'll then review some source materials in the fields of human performance that inspired this topic. From those works and other sources within similar fields, we'll review some key terms and concepts before finally exploring how we can take those concepts and apply them to corporate work culture.


THE STATUS QUO

To the best of my knowledge, the concept of Load Management applied in the corporate world is in its infancy and not well documented. Many companies focus on metrics like utilization, EBITDA, margin erosion, etc., which deal with financial performance, but I'm curious to know if and HOW companies are managing human performance for the person's long-term health?


Many project-based companies or consultancies track the quantity of hours their employees work along with financial metrics previously noted, but do they track how hard they are working? Is one person "working" a 40 hour week reading blogs and checking Instagram during work hours the same as another person actually working 40 hours a week? Is one person working a 40-hour week at 50% of their maximal output the same as one person working a 40-hour week at 100% of their maximal output? We all know that it isn't, so is there any benefit for you or an employer to track this?


There are certainly people out there who do see the importance of this issue and have suggested things such as surveying motivation and building a bench of employees to delegate menial work out to [1,2]. While those are definitely valid concepts that should be part of an overall load management plan, it doesn't address some of the initial questions I listed previously.


THE DESTINATION

In a time when burnout is more prevalent than ever, what if we could prevent overworking, or better yet, sustain peak performance both at work and at play? If you manage multiple direct reports, what if there was a way we could manage workload so that we aren't driving people into the ground? My hope is that we can one day do all of these things, since it’s already been done outside of the corporate world in different contexts. The real challenge is taking those concepts and translating them into corporate applications. But, before we explore those concepts, lets briefly review some source materials that inspired this post and provide a foundation for ideas we’ll be reviewing later.


SOURCE MATERIALS


Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness

The first piece of source material is called Peak Performance, which I originally read to find answers to questions like:

  1. How can I prevent myself from burning out?

  2. What practical tools are available?

  3. How can the tools be applied?

The introduction starts by describing two people, one a rising star at the global consulting firm McKinsey and Company, the other a track and field teen prodigy on the brink of running a sub 4 minute mile in high school. They’re described as people who were SO full of promise, so full of passion, only to have burned themselves out before ever reaching their true potentials. We later discover that the two people are the authors themselves, Brad the former consultant and Steve the former athlete. This book was the result of their collaboration to see if it was possible to not only achieve, but more importantly, sustain peak performance.

“The manner in which great intellectual and creative performers continually grow their minds… mirrors the manner in which great physical performers continually grow their bodies.”

The book is filled with great anecdotes of real people, top performers over a wide range of capabilities, everyone from athletes, to musicians, to intellectuals. Every story leads to the same conclusion, that all top performers are masters of something the authors called the “Growth Equation.” But an even bigger overarching theme throughout the book was that the way intellectuals continuously improve, is similar to the way that athletes continuously improve. Now, while the book provides many examples and big picture concepts of how people sustain peak performance, it doesn’t get into great detail about how to practically apply the conclusions.


The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

The next piece of source material is called The Infinite Game. In this book, Simon Sinek discusses how infinite games are happening all around us. While he isn’t the first person to describe the concept of Infinite Games, he does a great job of providing historical anecdotes and real world examples of how applying finite mindsets to infinite games can lead to negative outcomes for people, organizations, and even entire nations.


In the book Simon puts everything we do into two categories: Finite Games and Infinite Games. In a finite game there are clear rules and boundaries, clear objectives, and a finite number of players. Finite games are played to win, with some examples including a boxing match, a chess match, even a single battle within a war just to name a few.


In an infinite game, however, there are no clear rules or boundaries. Even when there are rules or governing laws, they can be broken without being caught or penalized. There are no clear objectives. There are an infinite number of players, all of whom can come and go as they please. Infinite games are played to perpetuate the game, that is, it only ends when there are no more players left in the game. The best example he gives of an infinite game is life. Nobody is ever declared the winner of life, and the game only ends when life ceases to exist.

“Finite players play to beat the people around them. Infinite players play to be better than themselves.”
“How do I create an environment in which my people can work to their natural best?”
“In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game.”

The author’s perspectives really resonated with some of the topics I encountered in Peak Performance, and this book really inspired to rethink how I approach not only my own career, but also to rethink how I can perpetuate the careers of others.


Now, while these books answered some of my initial questions and provided tons of inspiration, they led me down a few more rabbit holes to answer questions like:

  1. Can performance at the workplace be managed similarly to performance in other realms?

  2. What if employers treated their people more like athletes? After all, aren't we all just athletes playing an Infinite Game?

  3. What metrics could we use?

  4. How could we apply them?



TERMS & CONCEPTS


Before answering those questions, let’s briefly review some terms and concepts, so that we can all speak the same language when it comes to load management.

Load Management

Load management is defined as the deliberate temporary reduction of external physiological stressors intended to facilitate global improvements in athlete wellness and performance while preserving musculoskeletal and metabolic health. Basically, you reduce the amount of training and/or competition an athlete takes on to help them recover better and perform better over the long term. [3]


Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

When it comes to managing the variables of stress and rest, no population does it better than world-class athletes and their coaches. Something that they have been using for over a decade is a term called RPE, which stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. There’s actually a myriad of other metrics that they use in conjunction with RPE, but this is the easiest metric to apply to what people would encounter day to day in their career. RPE is an elegant tool normally used to manage stress, typically on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least stressful and 10 being most stressful. The sweet spot for continued growth is between RPE 7 and 8 on average depending on the athlete’s response to training.


Session RPE

Session RPE is an arbitrary unit of measurement multiplying RPE by a unit of time, which for athletes is typically in minutes.


APPLICATION


Taking a note from the NBA's playbook and applying load management in the context of corporate athletes, one of my proposed applications of load management is the use of RPE and Session RPE at the workplace. In this scenario, every employee would track how much time they worked and how hard they worked on a scale of 1 to 10 RPE. For accuracy, it would likely need to be done in hourly intervals and as a time weighted average for the day or week. For example if Employee 1 worked 10 hours of the week at RPE 8, with the remaining 30 hours at RPE 7, Employee 1 would have an RPE of 7.25. Their session RPE for the week would be 7.25 x 40 hours or 290. If other employees worked up to anywhere between RPE 5 to 9.5, with a similar 40 hour work week, we would see weekly session RPE's as summarized below. Based on the summary, if all else was equal, logically I would want to shift work away from Employee 5 on to Employee 3 to prevent Employee 5 from burning out. However, this assumes Employees 3 and 5 have similar thresholds of session RPE.

The actual application of this is really much more complicated and sometimes not even possible, depending on the type of work being done and the individual skills and experience of each employee, but there is definitely value in trying to load manage between employees for long term growth and happiness. Ultimately, the corporate athlete's growth and happiness will lead to the company's as well.


This could only be used as one metric to gauge employee health and could not work alone in a vacuum ignoring all other possible contexts. For example, let's say Employee 3 worked 76 hours instead of 40 but still at RPE 5, which is only a moderate effort. Session RPE for the week says that Employee 3 and Employee 5 accumulated the same amount of workload. However, the impact that working 76 hours had on that person's life is not accounted for. Wouldn't you rather work a 40 hour week at RPE 9.5 instead of a 76 hour week at RPE 5? That really depends on your individual circumstances, preferences, and tolerance for workload.


The application above also does not take into account any objective measures other than time, and also assumes that people are reporting their hours and RPE ratings accurately.


TO BE CONTINUED...


As we quickly discovered, trying to apply RPE and Session RPE in the real world for load managing people in the workplace is an interesting challenge that requires consideration of multiple variables that are not easily accounted for. As I continue to dive deeper into this topic and improve its application, I'll continue to update this concept in subsequent posts, so stay tuned!


If you found this post helpful, be sure to like, share or comment below!


REFERENCES

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2019/11/17/to-protect-your-best-employees-from-burnout-steal-the-nbas-load-management-concept/?sh=6d8c59d840c0

  2. https://www.fastcompany.com/90629932/try-this-nba-strategy-to-help-manage-hybrid-work

  3. https://www.stack.com/a/what-is-load-management-and-why-does-it-matter-for-athletes/

  4. Stulberg, Brad,, and Steve Magness. Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive With the New Science of Success. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Books, 2017. Print.

  5. Sinek, Simon. The Infinite Game. Portfolio Penguin, 2020.

Comments


Sign Up Here for Newsletter, Updates, and More!

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page