With an active readership posting more than one million comments each month, there’s no doubt Arianna Huffington—chair, president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group—has built a highly successful business and career. But seven years ago, she woke up in a pool of her own blood.
Burnt-out and sleep-deprived, Huffington passed out and hit her head on her desk—a life-changing event she calls her own personal wake-up call.
“As I came to in a pool of blood, I had to ask myself this question: Is this what success looks like?” she said, speaking at a Rotman School of Management event on Wednesday.
Since that experience, Huffington has become passionate about the impact of overwork on people. “My mission at the moment is to help other people avoid their own wake-up calls,” she explained. About 70% to 75% of the costs and incidence of disease are self-inflicted and stress-related, she said, adding, “Burnout is truly the disease of civilization.”
Her new book, Thrive, describes four pillars of success: well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving. Well-being starts with a simple step: just getting enough sleep. Huffington recommends adding an extra 30 minutes to your current sleep schedule.
She also believes technology places unreasonable demands on people, driving stress and fatigue. “The need for silence and the need for downtime is a human need,” she said. Huffington suggests choosing a time every night to turn off all electronic devices and “gently escort them out of your bedroom”—so you’re not tempted to check your email just one more time before you go to sleep.
How employers can help
On a personal level, Huffington believes in the importance of sleep, meditation and the need for renewal. But she wants to take the conversation out of the realm of the New Age and “move it into the realm of the bottom line.”
There’s a connection between overwork and bad decisions, healthcare costs, lost productivity and lost creativity, she explained, noting, “This conversation has moved to the business pages.” And some progressive employers are already taking steps to change this behaviour.
Take Volkswagen, for example. The company provides phones to employees that turn off automatically at 6 p.m. and turn on automatically at 7 a.m., explained Huffington. “They’ve discovered the importance of predictable time off. People need to know they don’t have to check email in case their boss needs something. You can’t live like that.”
In a similar vein, Daimler’s “Mail on Holiday” program automatically deletes emails sent to employees who are on vacation without those people ever seeing them. “Because how often do you get emails from people that say ‘out of office’ and then, five minutes later, you get an email from the person?” she asked. “Because we’re addicted; because we think if we don’t respond, the world is going to fall apart.”
Ultimately, true success isn’t defined by work alone. “There is a kind of incongruity between what we value and what consumes us,” said Huffington. “We need to address that.”
“Eulogies have very little to do with our LinkedIn profiles,” she added.