We recently spoke with Arianna Huffington, our Keynote Speaker at HR Tech World in Amsterdam, about her latest venture, Thrive Global, as well as her thoughts on the Future of Work and technology. This is the first in a series of blog posts featuring Arianna leading up to our Amsterdam show. Haven’t bought your ticket yet? You can still purchase your tickets here.
The first post in our series explores Arianna’s revolutionizing work as Founder and CEO of Thrive Global, a business working to unleash people’s full potential to live healthier and happier lives.
Can you tell us a bit about what led you to set up Thrive Global and the values and culture that underpin the company?
It goes back to 2007, when I collapsed from exhaustion and broke my cheekbone. After that, I became more and more passionate about the connection between well-being and productivity. And that led me to write my two books, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution. And as I went around the world speaking about them, and the issues of stress, burnout and the role of technology in our lives, I saw how deeply people want to change how they live and work. So I wanted to go beyond just speaking out and raising awareness. I felt the need to turn this passion into something real and tangible that would begin to help people change their daily lives. It was a call to action I just couldn’t ignore, and so I founded Thrive Global.
The values that underpin the company are based on the idea that burnout is not the price we have to pay for success. The science is clear that when we prioritize our well-being – which includes not just sleep, but unplugging and recharging — our performance actually goes up. So Thrive Global is about giving people the tools to be happier, more creative, more productive, more fulfilled, less stressed, have a healthier relationship with technology and live lives filled with meaning and purpose.
You have an app that you introduced at Thrive Global that deletes email for staff on vacation. Can you tell us more about the thinking behind that and how it works in practice?
First of all, Americans don’t take enough vacation. Last year 54% of Americans left unused vacation time on the table, amounting to 662 million days that could have been used to make them less stressed — and more productive. And in a just-released survey, nearly half of respondents admitted to missing out on “vital holiday experiences because of time spent on social media” and 44% of respondents said that “social media ruined their holiday experience.”
But even when we do take a break, we take our office with us in the form of our phones. Vacation is a time to unplug and recharge. But if you don’t really unplug, you also don’t recharge. A proper vacation actually helps make you better at your job. So we wanted a tool to help people make their time away from the office truly recharging. That’s why we created Thrive Away. It’s a vacation email tool, and the way it works is simple: While you’re away on vacation, people who email you get a message letting them know when you’ll be back and who’s covering for you in the meantime. And then — the most important part — the tool deletes the email. If the email is important, the sender can always send it again when you’re back. If it’s not, then it’s not waiting for you when you get back, or, even worse, tempting you to read it while you’re away. The tool also has an option to archive your emails instead of deleting them if you need training wheels! But the key is not just that the tool is creating a wall between you and your email; it’s that it frees you from the mounting anxiety of knowing there’s a mounting pile of emails waiting for you on your return — the stress of which mitigates the benefits of disconnecting in the first place.
You’ve been quoted as saying the biggest mistakes are always hiring mistakes – can you tell us a bit about the hiring process at Thrive Global, how you seek to avoid those mistakes, and any tips you’d like to share on how to make better hires and keep them happily engaged once on-board?
We like to bring people in and have the interview process simulate what it would be like if they were on the job. So a good interview is essentially like their first day at Thrive. That way you get a sense of how they fit into a system that’s already working. And, of course, we’re a mission-driven business – so it goes without saying that they have to be passionate about our mission, both professionally and personally.
Once onboard, keeping them engaged is part of our mission to be a sustainable startup. So we have a nap and meditation room – which includes a nap pod and is completely device free. We bring in masseuses from Zeel regularly (which is very popular – the signup sheet is literally full within seconds), and we encourage people to take time off and let others know any time they’re feeling overwhelmed. And if there are special occasions or emergencies when late-night or weekend work is required, we encourage people to come in late the next day or take a “Thrive” day off. So I love the process of putting our principles into action.
Thrive Global has clients like J.P. Morgan, SAP, Uber, and Accenture – How do you persuade organizations like these to start prioritizing employee well-being and the need for staff to disconnect from the always-on world of work?
Convincing them of the need isn’t as hard as you’d think. On one side, the science is so clear, and on the other side the pace of our lives is so unsustainable that people are breaking down. So when we show businesses the clear connection between productivity and well-being, they’re onboard. The same with purpose.Well-being and purpose aren’t add-ons, they’re competitive advantages, and who doesn’t want a competitive advantage? The hard part is changing company culture, which has to be done from top to bottom and from bottom to top. And that’s a big part of what Thrive Global does.
You’ve been highly successful throughout your life from Cambridge University through to Huffington Post and now Thrive Global – What inspires you and what motivates you to carry on?
A few principles that have been through-lines to my life have been my passion for helping people engage, connect, have their voice heard and find fulfillment. I’m Greek, that’s what we do! We lure you to the table, and force you to eat and talk and enjoy life. And HuffPost was a version of that, and so is Thrive Global. I want to help people and businesses thrive, which means helping them take control of their lives, learn how to unplug and recharge, take advantage of the connections between well-being and performance, and find and nurture their sense of purpose.