Future of Work:  Well + Being & Balance

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

Tara Parker-Pope, editor of the wellbeing desk at the Washington Post, recently interviewed Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO, Thrive Global, and California U.S. Rep. Mark Takano on the topic of wellbeing as it relates to productivity in the workplace. 

Thrive Global consults Fortune 500 companies on the impact of employee wellness on job performance. According to Huffington, “We are in the middle of a big cultural transformation. People need to feel that they have cultural permission to take care of themselves.” Thrive works with “many multinational companies,” including, “Salesforce, Pfizer, Accenture, CVS, Walmart,” where “these issues are not just HR issues, they’ve been elevated to the C-suite.” 

She continued, “Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve lived under this delusion that, in order to be successful and productive, you have to be ‘always on.’ First, we revered machines, then software, both of which are always on. Now we recognize that the human operating system is different. For the human operating system, downtime is not a bug, it’s a feature. That’s changing the way we approach employee well-being, productivity, and business metrics,” Huffington said.

Thrive’s philosophy is that overall wellness and productivity emanate from integration of what they call the five pillars of daily life: sleep, food, movement, stress management, and connection. How one interacts between those five pillars provides the crucial balance that is appropriate for a person to manage stress and avoid burnout, the goal being to do one’s best at work and in other aspects of life, with the caveat that things always happen that you cannot control.

Huffington explained that people have different levels of needs and it’s important to recognize one’s own most important needs, e.g., whether that is a certain amount of sleep each night or exercise each day. “Everything is integrated,” she points out. “If you’re sleep deprived, you’re going to crave sugars and bad carbs. It’s going to be harder to manage stress and harder to be empathetic and connected to others.”

Thrive encourages employees at companies it works with to take incremental “micro-steps” to improve their management of the five foundational behaviors, which increases their productivity at work and improved overall wellbeing.  

As evidence of the in-process transformational status of Thrive’s system of beliefs, Huffington pointed out the World Health Organization only recognized burnout as a global epidemic in 2019.

Her advice, as a first micro-step to improved wellbeing? Turn off your phone and charge it outside your bedroom to get a good night’s sleep. Only 28% of the world does it. 

California Rep. Takano has introduced a bill in the Congress that would make a 32-hour workweek a national standard. He explained that his intent is “to expand the conversation about…how long the workweek should be and how do we create a new work-life balance in America?” From his point of view, this change would increase employee productivity and lessen burnout.

Takano pointed out that the 40-hour workweek is a product of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which also gave non-exempt workers the ability to earn overtime pay after 40 hours of work. Under his proposal, overtime rates would kick in after 32 hours of work in one week.

Asked how the change would impact employers financially, Takano said, “It will vary from labor sector to labor sector…It could increase costs but it may not.” He pointed out that workers would need to earn the same salary for working 32 hours each week as they presently earn for working 40 hours to be able to pay their bills, which, he conceded, is a huge concern for some companies.

Responding to the question of how he believes a change to a four-day workweek will improve employees’ wellbeing, Takano cited the example of Americans who are raising children while also taking care of aging parents, which he believes can create “enormous stress.” He also noted that the pandemic led to employees having a lot more flexibility as they worked from home. One example of that flexibility is that working from home allows people to get more sleep, a universally positive contribution to overall wellness and productivity.

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