Arianna Huffington: Leading the (Re)Charge

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Arianna Huffington believes there’s a need for more sleep in the workplace. So much so, in fact, that she wrote a novel, “The Sleep Revolution,” and started a business centered around that very subject. The surplus of digital technology, the obsessive mobile culture, and the need to be always on and plugged in has taken a significant toll on the masses in the modern-day workforce.

As part of the Town Hall series at Advertising Week, Huffington brought a group of high-level industry leaders together to dive deeper into the sleep revolution and to explore how prioritizing health and wellness in the workplace culture is a both a necessary movement, and one that begins with the leadership in the business infrastructure.

“We’re always on, always answering texts, all consumed by social media, and that becomes the enemy of good ideas, of creativity and of moving forward,” Huffington told Advertising Week attendees.

Facebook’s Carolyn Everson said her recent decision to take a sabbatical lead to a flurry of chatter, both inside and outside of her immediate work community. But rather than worry, Everson felt relieved that such a necessary conversation about taking time off had made its way to the forefront.

“There was a lot of, ‘is she really not going to work?’ But I felt strongly that I had to do it for a couple of reasons. One was for myself and my family, but equally to hopefully set an example for the rest of the team. To be a leader, you have to walk the walk and talk the talk, and you have to take your paid time off,” Everson said. “Companies need to consider people their most important asset. In order for people to have high performance at work, they need to lead extraordinary lives outside of work. The more people are fulfilled with their own objectives and priorities, the better their performance.”

But that sense of fulfillment is impossible to achieve unless people also make workplace changes on an individual level. As Heart’s Joanna Coles explained, today’s workforce has become too readily available too much of the time. Modern technology, with its exponential advantages, has also made people overwhelmingly, sometimes negatively, connected by acting as the gateway for work assignments and emails to follow employees home after-hours and on weekends.

“Devices cause this sense of over-urgency, and it creates the idea that you’re always available. But I think the most powerful thing you can do is to not respond to somebody,” Coles said. “I always try hard to never contact my colleagues on the weekend, and if they contact me, I don’t always respond.”

Huffington said a need for open communication between employee and employers about what’s valuable to their health and wellbeing is what will lead to significant workplace changes, such as telling an employer that it is necessary to drop off a child at school every morning.

Other panelists, including AT&T’s Lori Lee, Skinnygirl’s Bethenny Frankel, Accenture’s Ellyn Shook and famed entrepreneur Mark Cuban shared those sentiments, and applauded the companies already doing the work to hold the wellbeing of their workforce to the same standard as their financial metrics.

“What I find reassuring is the seriousness with which executives like these on this stage take their role in people’s lives, and how different that is than 30 years ago,” Coles said. “I think companies are stepping up and deciding to look after their workplace, calling bullies out and calling people out who want to have Saturday meetings at 8 o’clock in the morning, because that’s just not okay.”

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