#ISM2018 keynote Arianna Huffington is on a mission to end the collective delusion that burnout is the price we pay for success.
In 2007, Arianna Huffington collapsed in her office. “I hit my head on my desk, broke my cheekbone, and came to in a pool of blood. I asked myself the question: is this what success looks like?”
By any of the usual metrics, Huffington is an undeniably successful businesswoman and a role model for many. The Greek-American author and syndicated columnist has written 15 books and is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, later acquired by AOL for US$315 million. She is a regular inclusion in lists such as Forbes’ Most Influential Women in Media, The Guardian’s Top 100 in Media, and Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in the World.
But, as Huffington tells the audience at #ISM2018, having money and power as your only metrics of success is like trying to sit on a two-legged stool. A third leg is required if you’re going to attain balance – and that’s where the concept of “Thrive” comes in.
The size of the prize
We’re currently operating in the midst of a global epidemic of burnout and stress. “What’s sad is that it’s completely unnecessary,” says Huffington. “When we take care of ourselves, we’re more effective in what we’re doing.”
Issues which used to be the province of health magazines are now entering the mainstream. Businesses are increasingly recognising that performance improves when employees take care of themselves. The three pillars of self-care are nutrition, movement and – Huffington’s favourite topic – sleep.
Sleep is the best performance-enhancing drug
Ever heard the phrase “we can sleep when we’re dead”? That kind of attitude, according to Huffington, only brings forward the time when we’ll actually be dead. Sleep affects your well-being, your cognitive performance, and subsequently your company’s bottom line. Not long ago it was common to see business leaders competing in terms of who can operate on the least amount of sleep. U.S. President Donald Trump, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and television personality Martha Stewart all reportedly operate on 4 hours of sleep or less.
Huffington knows that when she’s exhausted, she is “the least good version of herself”. Lack of sleep translates into lower creativity, a lack of empathy, more reactive behaviour, a greater likelihood that she’ll take things personally and miss red flags. Similarly, former President Bill Clinton famously said that every one of his major mistakes was made when he was tired.
Here’s the good news. High-profile CEOs are “coming out” as champions of a good nights’ sleep, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Bezos wrote a piece about why getting eight hours of sleep is a top priority not only for him personally, but for Amazon’s shareholders, as a well-rested CEO is much more likely to make good-quality decisions.
Fix your culture to reduce attrition
“Taking care of your employees is no longer just a ‘nice’ benefit,” says Huffington. “It directly affects the business metrics.” Burnt out employees are highly likely to change jobs, with their companies bearing the brunt of attrition costs. Lower engagement, reduced productivity and higher healthcare costs are the other risks faced by companies that run on burnout.
When we prioritise a healthy culture, says Huffington, we’re much more able to deal with problems as they emerge, and respond to crises quickly. “A thriving culture means that everybody knows you cannot sacrifice empathy and caring on the altar of hyper-growth”, she says.
Huffington uses Uber as an example, where from her position on the Board she has seen first-hand the negative effects of a hyper-growth culture that is fuelled by burnout. “The idea that everything will be forgiven if you’re a top performer is no longer sustainable. I promised Uber that going forward, no more ‘brilliant jerks’ will be allowed in the organisation. The truth is that no matter how brilliant you are, if you’re not there to support colleagues, be empathetic, and be humane, in the long term you’ll have a deleterious impact on the business.”
Why do people become jerks? “When employees are burnt out,” says Huffington, “they act out.”
In the age of machine-learning, artificial intelligence and continuous disruption, it’s more important than ever to protect and project our uniquely human qualities – namely, empathy and creativity. Huffington singles out these two qualities as they cannot be replaced by AI. She notes that although we regularly celebrate advances in the field of augmented reality, we need to prioritise and cultivate “augmented humanity”.
Alibaba Founder Jack Ma spoke in Davos recently where he introduced the concept of LQ (Loving Quotient), or how people treat one another. In business this will become increasingly important as maturity develops beyond IQ, through EQ, and finally to LQ.
Put the smartphone down
“The next stage of technological disruption will involve technology that will help you disconnect from technology,” says Huffington. She speaks persuasively about the negative effect devices have on people’s wellbeing, and the importance of taking the phone out of the bedroom to ensure a proper night’s sleep. “Your phone is the repository of every problem that you’re dealing with,” she says. It certainly shouldn’t be the last thing you see before sleeping, or the first thing you see when you wake in the morning.
“Learning to manage relationships with our phones is key, but putting boundaries on technology doesn’t mean we don’t love technology. At present our culture values people who are always on, always texting back,” she says. “Where we put our attention determines our lives.”
Huffington leaves the audience at ISM2018 with the image of the three-legged stool. The third leg – the Thrive leg, is built from a sense of well-being, connectivity with your own wisdom, giving back, and feeling a sense of wonder about life, she says. “So often, we don’t even look up.”
Are you at ISM2018? Visit Procurious in the Exhibitor Hall – Booth #207!
Don’t miss out on Procurious Founder Tania Seary’s inspirational & informative ISM2018 Session titled “From The Amazon to The Moon: The Possibilities for Procurement” on Tuesday 8th May, 3.45-4.45.