Bringing Work and Life onto the Same Side of the Coin

Bringing Work and Life onto the Same Side of the Coin

By Arianna Huffington

The way we’re working isn’t working. Our workplaces – and our lives – are fueled by stress and burnout, and it’s not sustainable. To be able to thrive both at home and at work, we need to bring humanity back to the workplace.

This starts with the very simple recognition that we take our whole selves to work. We don't leave our humanity behind when we head to the office. We don't have a work silo and a home silo, a work life and a home life – we just have one life. And it’s all connected.

This sounds obviously true, but the entire premise that so much of our workplace culture is based on – the idea of balance – says otherwise. To truly make our workplaces more human, we need to go beyond this outdated notion of balance. Work and life, well-being and productivity, are not on opposite sides – so they don’t need to be balanced. They’re on the same side, and they rise in tandem. Increase one and you increase the other -- this is what the science clearly shows.

And yet all around the world, workplaces continue to be structured around the collective delusion that burnout is simply the price we have to pay for success. It's why Belgian philosopher Pascal Chabot called burnout "civilization's disease." The numbers are staggering. In the U.S., 70 percent of employees say they’re burned out, and among senior leaders the number is 96 percent. Worldwide, 85 percent of employees say they’re not engaged at work.

And this is hugely costly, both to businesses and to employees. In the U.S. alone, stress costs the economy $300 billion. An estimated three-quarters of all health-care spending in the U.S. is for the treatment of chronic, stress-related conditions that can be managed and prevented.

So how do we make our workplaces more human? First, we have to take control of our relationship with technology. Obviously technology allows us to do amazing things and has been responsible for enormous productivity gains for business. At the same time, however, technology has also accelerated the pace of our lives – both at home and at work –beyond our capacity to keep up. We’re being controlled by something we should be controlling. It’s consuming our attention and crippling our ability to focus, think, and perform at our best.

And it’s getting worse. According to one study, the top ten percent of smartphone users touch their phones an average of 5,427 times each day. The rest of us clock in at 2,617 touches per day. And in the U.S. over 70 percent of people sleep next to their phones or with their phones tucked in bed with them.

But unlike machines, humans need downtime. And when they don’t get it, they can’t recharge. And when that happens, it’s not just their resilience that’s compromised, it’s the company’s, as well. After all, any collective – whether it’s a workplace or a community – is only as strong as its individual members.

And that collective strength is what company culture is. Company culture acts as a company’s immune system. In a culture that has run itself down, resilience becomes compromised, much like the resilience of the human body, and we become less able to rise to challenges. In a human-centered workplace, company culture is healthy and resilient enough to deal with these challenges before they become a crisis. And that will have a direct impact on the bottom line.

There are, of course, many ways to make the workplace more human, but one tool is the Entry Interview. We all know about exit interviews, but the Entry Interview can be just as important. It’s about asking employees: what is the most important thing in your life outside of work that helps you thrive? That’s vital information for your team to know. For instance, we had one woman who said, "What's really important to me is to take my daughter to school at 7:30 a.m. every morning, but my manager always sets up 7:30 a.m. conference calls." When we talked to her manager, it turned out the manager had no idea and the calls were easily scheduled at a different time going forward. When the Entry Interview is used correctly, it means a lot fewer exit interviews trying to find out why an employee burned out or decided to leave.

Bringing more humanity to the workplace doesn’t have to start at the top but it has to be embraced at the top. If HR is saying one thing, but senior management is still incentivizing a burnout culture and being always on, we know which message most employees will listen to. And when employees see their leaders modeling this behavior, it creates a ripple effect, especially if employees who follow suit are celebrated and promoted.

Bringing more humanity to the workplace means – as with the Entry Interview – starting with the human element and then building the workplace around it, instead of the other way around. And it can’t happen soon enough, because the price we’re paying is too high and the casualties too many.

VIDEO: Watch Arianna Huffington and her fellow keynote presenters from the 2018 Great Place to Work Summit.

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Arianna Huffington