You often point out there’s a powerful business case for well-being. Why aren’t more corporate leaders realizing it?
Science unequivocally proves that fully recharged employees are a huge competitive advantage. If you’re running a company and you think qualities like decision-making, creativity, energy, focus, collaboration and innovation have no effect on the company’s long-term survival, then, yes, feel free to ignore the well-being of your employees and whether the workday of the company is structured to allow them a good night’s sleep. But I can tell you that that’s not a company I’d buy stock in.
Well-being is no longer just an HR issue, it’s a bottom line issue. Those that don’t care about it are ceding a huge competitive advantage. No good leader would leave such easily available resources and tools for success unused, but it’s amazing that so many still do – though thankfully, fewer and fewer do.
One example of this cultural shift was a 2016 Harvard Business Review article about how “sleep deficiencies can undermine important forms of leadership behavior.” The authors are from McKinsey – and one of them is a sleep specialist. If someone a few years ago had shown me an article by McKinsey consultants saying that the way for executives to be better leaders is to sleep more, not less, and that McKinsey would actually have a sleep specialist on staff, I would have assumed the piece was in The Onion.
But the piece was real, and so is the science behind it. As the authors note, sleep has a profound effect on the brain’s prefrontal cortex, home of advanced cognitive processes like planning, decision-making and problem solving – all very handy skills for business leaders. “Sleep (mis)management, at one level, is obviously an individual issue,” the authors write. “But in an increasingly hyperconnected world, in which many companies now expect their employees to be on call and to answer emails 24/7, this is also an important organizational topic that requires specific and urgent attention.”
What about those who see well-being campaigns as a luxury for employers with money to spare?
They’re absolutely wrong. Well-being isn’t a luxury, or an add-on or a perk. It’s not about fancy cafeterias or having a gym in the office – a company can have all those and still be fueled by burnout and stress. Well-being needs to be woven into the DNA of a company’s core purpose and culture. And that’s not dependent on a company’s profit margin. It’s companies that are operating in challenging environments that most need the resilience well-being provides. And companies that realize this have a competitive advantage.
Could you have made such a success of the Huffington Post without the brutal work schedule and focus that led to your eventual burnout?
Absolutely. I wish I’d learned the value of prioritizing my well-being much earlier in my career. I now know that I still would have achieved whatever success I have, but I would have done it with more joy, more happiness and with less of a cost to my health.
We founded The Huffington Post in 2005, and two years in we were growing at an incredible pace. But after my collapse from exhaustion and sleep deprivation, I had to ask myself, was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage and bring in investors.
In the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of the word. I knew something had to radically change. I couldn’t go on that way. Today, I realize that whatever success I’ve been lucky enough to have was in spite of – not because of – overwork and burnout.