Arianna Huffington is named on Time Magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people and the Forbes’ Most Powerful Women list, so it was not surprising that her keynote at HRTech Amsterdam last week played to a full house.  Her new bestselling book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder taps into the latest research in the fields of psychology, sports, sleep, and physiology that suggests that the way we live our lives is counter-intuitive.

As we frantically try to attain the traditional benchmarks of success, she observes, all we do is self-sabotage. Instead of “thriving” characterized by leading rewarding, fulfilled and healthy lives that allow meaning, purpose and well-being to flourish we end up nowhere close. Our relentless pursuit of the two traditional metrics of success–money and power– has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses, with a deterioration in the quality of our lives, relationships, and ironically even our careers as our abilities to make effective decisions is impacted. Her intention is to kick-start a movement of revolutionary thinking in both our lives and workplaces.

The wet laundry feeling

A victim of acute burnout herself, she had no idea she had been on the path to self-destruction. She attributes this steady decline to a mindless addiction to our smartphones, with our souls and bodies paying a heavy price. We no longer unplug for any time at all and being “on 24/7” in some cultures is seen as a badge of honor. We wake up spiritually undernourished, sleep deprived feeling like “wet laundry”. Who knows that feeling?

The ways she had devised for device detoxing and setting boundaries were excellent. She urged us all to shut off our phones completely once a day without being tempted to take a sneak check. Create boundaries for colleagues and be firm about sticking to them was a good reminder. One of the Thrive Apps sends a message saying that the recipient is taking a “thrive break” and will respond as soon as possible. There was another sending a message saying that the recipient was on vacation and the email would be deleted and to try again later. Can you imagine returning from holiday with no emails in your inbox? She went on with her focus on disconnecting from work and other distractions with her message of no phones in the bedroom. She even designed a bedtime charger complete with a blanket for the family smartphones.

Impact on employee engagement

But it wasn’t just about individuals. Employee well-being is also vital for organizational success. Employee stress and burnout are economic burdens on countries, citing the US as an example which costs businesses $300 billion. When people are burnt out, they also act out, Arianna maintained, which has a disproportionate impact on women who become easy targets for abuse. Investing in employee wellness schemes is as important as investing in technology and other workplace developments.

Referencing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as someone who made sure he got 8 hours sleep a night, which was a benefit to shareholders as his decision-making abilities were sharper. So shifting cultural thinking would then be a top-down initiative. But even if the boss gets his 8 hours sleep a night, will lesser mortals be so lucky?