News today that Arianna Huffington is leaving her eponymous website The Huffington Post to focus on her “wellbeing and productivity” startup Thrive Global poses a question: Why would Arianna give up the top job at the Pulitzer prize-winning news site with over 100 million monthly users, that she notoriously worked 18-hour days to build, to start a new business that encourages people to get 8 hours sleep?
In 2005 when Arianna co-founded The Huffington Post, the term “wellness” meant something along the lines of popping the occasional multi vitamin, eating Sainsbury’s “Be good to yourself” range, discussing “work/life” balance over a cocktail and hitting the treadmill at 5am. These days, corporate wellness is big business – £8bn in 2018, as predicted by Thrive. With mindfulness training, nutrition advice and flexible working hours emanating from the world’s top offices, big corporations are happy to adopt wellness plans to help attract and retain top talent with a different set of values to their peers before them.
Arianna is no stranger to “wellness”, having written two books around the subject, “Thrive” and “The Sleep Revolution”, as well as using her celebrity to promote consumer and corporate wellness at high profile events. Her efforts have no doubt contributed to the widespread rethinking of our understanding of mental and physical health in the last few years, and its impact on our attitudes to office work.
As outlined in Thrive’s Global Investor Deck, in the UK stress alone results in 105 million lost workdays a year; workdays that in future might be redeemable through “wellness”. This figure goes someway to explaining Arianna’s decision to turn her well rested attention to Thrive, the “corporate and consumer well-being and productivity platform” that hopes to rectify this problem, tackling some of the challenges that commonly face employees, such as stress, burnout, depression, and other chronic health issues that are brought on by work.
Thrive’s corporate offerings include workshops and seminars, e-learning courses, weekend retreats, apps, workplace solutions, mindfulness training, nutrition and sleep advice, as well as team communication design that are “all within an educational framework that encourages healthy choices”. Costs for companies to reap the benefits of Thrive’s “wellness” are not included in its initial investor deck, but if early indications are anything to go by, Arianna’s corporate health plan will come at a price. She did leave Huff Po for it after all.
For startups or SMEs used to cutting costs, there is unlikely to be budget leftover for Thrive Global’s “wellness” plan, and I’m sure there would be a few groans if it meant cutting the bar tab at the workplace Summer Party. But there are free (or cheap!) ways that companies, whatever size, can promote office wellness without splashing out on Thrive, and potentiality reap the benefits of a happier and healthier workforce:
- Office fruit, not doughnuts – this one is obvious but important, and there is a reason Thrive’s proposition includes nutrition advice. Those who eat crap, feel crap.
- No vacation emails – do not email employees whilst on vacation, do not expect employees to be on emails on vacation. If they are, tell them off.
- If you take a global call at midnight, come in later – be like Arianna and allow staff to get their 8 hours sleep!
- Greet colleagues with a smile – a double shot latte and clear inbox is tempting first thing in the morning, but a positive chat with a colleague is a better start to the day and creates a good work atmosphere.
- Set breaks – if you work solidly in the morning, don’t celebrate by scrolling through Instagram or the Daily Mail. Get away from your desk, go for a walk, chat with someone in the kitchen. Your desk is for working and when you are not working, leave it.
- Office plants – studies by Cardiff, Exeter, Queensland and Groningen Universities demonstrate that plants can increase productivity by as much as 15% as well as improving employees’ sense of wellbeing in the workplace by up to 40%. Plants are cheap, easy to look after and brighten up any office space.
- Create flexible working hours – this is more realistic for some lines of work than others, but generally staff appreciate the trust and flexibility this entails. Employers should focus on quality and effectiveness of employees’ work, not the hours they put in. Allowing staff to work remotely is also a benefit appreciated by staff.
- Pay staff to volunteer – at MWW we get one day a year to volunteer for a cause of our choosing. Recently I volunteered at a newly opened Wetland in London. The sun was shining and getting outside proved to be a happy change. Encouraging employees to take a break from themselves and support the wider community is no bad thing!
- Get up, get out – turn 1-on-1 meetings into walkings, schedule picnics for staff if its sunny, encourage employees to get out for lunch. Just get out and get moving! And yes, pub crawls count too…
- Don’t overschedule meetings – staff like to check-in with one another and discuss work progress, but too many meetings can feel like a burden and distract from getting work done, adding to stress. Try not to schedule too many meetings in, and meetings should always have a clear outcome.
James Gillies, Senior Account Executive, MWW London