July 30, 2022

My Conversation With Arianna Huffington: Humanity-First

Arianna Huffington has always wanted to change the world for the better.

Her reputation for being empathetic is well-known and world-class. She shows over and over again what it means to be a leader who always puts people first, no matter what. Huffington has been busy lately making two unique partnerships with groups to help her move toward her “humanity-first” goal.

First, Huffington’s organization, Thrive Global, which is a behaviour change technology company, recently teamed up with SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) to launch a mental health and wellness pledge.

Huffington said that she and Johnny C. Taylor, the CEO of SHRM, were both very worried that mental health and wellbeing services for employees could be put on the back burner because of a worsening economy and a tough business environment. So, Thrive and SHRM worked together to make an organizational pledge to keep making these investments. More than 100 organizations have already signed the pledge.

“Because such great advances were made over the last two years,” she said, “both culturally and in terms of offerings that companies made, it would be a shame to regress. We are seeing the mental health crisis being exacerbated, and we felt that we needed to double down on supporting employees in terms of their wellbeing and mental health.”

Companies like Walmart, AT&T, CVS Health, Levi’s, and Salesforce have signed the mental health and wellbeing pledge.

Huffington thinks that we have a once-in-a-generation chance to change how we work and live, to change how productive we are, and to realize that when we put mental health and wellbeing of employees first, we will improve business metrics.

She said, “It’s not like there is a tradeoff between the two. When you make sure that your employees are feeling seen and heard and respected and you help take care of their wellbeing, that employee experience directly impacts customer success.” 

Genesys, a company that makes technology for customer service and call centres, is the second company that Huffington and Thrive Global have recently joined forces with. Together, they just released Thrive Reset for Genesys, an employer-initiated stress intervention solution for frontline workers that is backed by science and is made to focus on the root causes of employee burnout.

Contact centre agents have one of the most stressful jobs in society, and they leave their jobs at a very high rate. Thrive and Genesys got together to help people in these jobs.

During our conversation, Huffington said that it takes 60 to 90 seconds for a person’s mind and body to change from a state of stress to a state of calm, from the fight-or-flight stage of the nervous system to the parasympathetic stage. After call centre workers have gone through those stressful times, the recently released solution gives them a chance to reset

The tool lets an organization put the partnership’s tools for a call centre agent’s health and happiness right into their workflow, so they can de-stress, reset, and recharge in real-time. In an early pilot with a Fortune 10 retailer, employee health and customer satisfaction both got better.

“It’s amazing to see the result that the tool has both on the stress of the agents and on the customer experience,” remarked Huffington. “Because when you are stressed, how can you possibly be the best version of yourself? How can you possibly be able to deal with an angry customer or solve a problem when you are already in turmoil yourself?”

Arianna Huffington

When I asked Arianna what else leaders could do to help their employees, her answer was powerful.

“We believe that when leaders take care of themselves, they are much more able to take care of their employees to be empathetic, creative, inspiring. But when they’re depleted, running on empty and burnt out, it’s much harder to lead from what is best in them. Role modeling is key because we are changing an entire culture that used to believe that burnout is simply the price you pay for success.”

Huffington also thinks that empathy is very important and, in fact, the fuel for a company’s business strategy. But she doesn’t think empathy should be seen as a “warm and fuzzy” trait. Instead, she thinks it should be seen as something that can change the culture of an organization.

Huffington’s admission was telling.

“If a culture falls apart, everything else soon follows, as I saw clearly when I was on the board of Uber,” she divulged. “We need to recognize the importance of empathy in building a sustainable and caring culture, making it a priority. It starts with leaders taking care of themselves so they can tap into their empathy more easily.”

Arianna Huffington

Better words perhaps have never been spoken.

Watch Arianna Huffington and Dan Pontefract’s full interview below, or listen to the Leadership NOW Series podcast for an audio version.

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