Arianna Huffington On How Women Can Move From Surviving To Thriving

“We have all been talking for many years now about ways to have more women in top positions, more women on boards – but it is not happening. We have to recognize that this won’t happen until we change the nature of workplaces, because right now they are fueled by stress and burnout,” said Arianna Huffington.

Huffington was co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, which launched in 2005 as an online news aggregator. Following AOL’s acquisition of Huffington Post in 2011, Huffington became the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group. In 2016 Huffington left this role to develop her new startup Thrive Global, a one stop shop for improving well-being and performance.

While Thrive Global serves everyone, Huffington said that women have a higher chance than men of experiencing stress and burnout. “We have, for example, data which shows that women in stressful jobs have a 40% greater risk of heart disease and a 60% greater risk of diabetes.”

The 2016 Women in The Workplace report by McKinsey and LeanIn.org states that women in senior level roles are seven times more likely than their male peers to say they do more than half of all the housework.

This ‘second shift’ can cause mental overload, role strain and make it difficult for women to achieve their professional goals, as they struggle to balance work and home life commitments.

Huffington is committed to changing this by providing the tools to help women manage their competing commitments. In this interview Huffington shares how women can take steps to put themselves first and become more fulfilled in life and work.

King: Why is the issue of managing burnout so critical?

Huffington: When you take time to recharge you are more effective and more productive and this has become even more important because of our addiction to technology. The more addicted we are to our devices, the harder it is to recharge and be productive. It is not just the hours at work. It is what we are doing when we leave work. We are now beginning to see the data about how addicted people are to social media, to updating their Facebook and checking their likes. This all makes it much harder to recharge and this has consequences both on our health and on our productivity.

King: Why do you think organizations have been so focused on the number of hours worked in an office rather than the quality of work produced?

Huffington: It goes back to the industrial revolution, where we fell in love with machines. The goal of machines is to minimize downtime. But human beings are not machines. We actually need downtime. It is part of the human operating system. When we realize that, it makes a big difference in how we approach our lives.

King: How do you see workplaces changing for women?

Huffington: I call it the need for a third gender revolution. The first is giving us the vote. The second is access to jobs in the top of every profession, but this is still an incomplete revolution. I don’t believe it will be complete until we change the nature of workplaces.

We change the nature of work by focusing more on teams and the possibility of working on projects. This is great for women because it gives them more flexibility in terms of how work gets accomplished.

King: How can organizations better support women with these changes?

Huffington: At Thrive, we have introduced something called entry interviews. Every member of the team can share what exactly matters to them and what is going on in their lives. From the beginning, they can then integrate work into the rest of their lives.

This is also about learning to be a part of a team. I remember doing some of our entry interviews and one women said, “What is important to me is taking my daughter to school at 7:30 in the morning.” Her team manager, had already set up conference calls every morning at 7:30 because she didn’t know what was important to this woman. Learning what is important to every member of the team in terms of their lives makes it feel much more collaborative and easier to care for each other while doing great work. If your basic needs are taken care of, it is going to be much easier to do great work.

King: There is so much pressure on women to ‘have it all’ with competing demands at home and work. How can every woman start to take better care of themselves?

Huffington: First, drop the idea of ‘having it all.’ That’s an impossible standard for anybody, especially women who, as you note, are more likely to be doing more work at home. So the key is to, as they say on planes, ‘secure your own oxygen mask before helping others’. This isn’t being selfish; it’s about being more effective. And you start with sleep. Yes, I know it’s difficult, especially for women, but even 15 or 30 minutes more per night is important. And one of my favorite sleep tips is to banish your phone from your room at night. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep: our to-do lists, our inboxes, our anxieties. Putting your phone ‘to bed’ as a regular part of your bedtime ritual makes it more likely you can fall asleep more quickly.

Also, build a few times during the day to disconnect, take a break and recharge. If you’re not deliberate about this, your day will overtake you. You have to be as deliberate about this appointment with yourself as you are with all your other appointments with other people.

King: What are the signs of burnout that people should pay attention to?

Huffington: There are, of course, the obvious signs – being tired and exhausted all the time. But there are more subtle things as well – the inability to focus, keep your train of thought, give your undivided attention to something, or someone.

We also tend to react more emotionally to problems and challenges when we’re stressed and sleep deprived. Stress and burnout also compromise our immune systems, so if you find you’re sick all the time, burnout might be one of the reasons.

King: How have you redefined success for yourself?

Huffington: Everybody should have a definition of success, so they can see if what they spend their time on is in alignment with what’s really important to them. Now I think the true definition of success should start with: do you feel fulfilled? Do you feel like your life has meaning? Are you able to spend enough time and be present with the people that you love?