TiEcon 2022: Stress is a prime factor in startup failure, suggests Arianna Huffington

iNDICA News Bureau-

Stress is an omnipresent phenomenon that manifests itself in the strangest of ways — and the lifestyle disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the stress faced by people all over the world.

This is compounded by an environment that does not support the mental health of employees and a cultural promotion of ‘hustling’ all the time to attain business success — which combine to create high rates of depression, large numbers of exhausted and overworked employees, and low job satisfaction and happiness index numbers.

Of the many executives working in this space, one who has led the way for a mental health renaissance and championed dialog on stress, burnout and living a more balanced lifestyle is Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive, founder of the Huffington Post and author of numerous international best-selling books, including Thrive and Sleep Revolution.

Huffington is among TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people as well as on the Forbes Most Powerful Women list. She is a graduate of Cambridge University.

In her extensive career, Huffington has been no stranger to managing several projects at once and, by her own admission, lived a life of considerable and consistent stress.

Speaking at the three-day TiEcon 2022, which ended May 7, Huffington said, “For me, the wake-up call came when I collapsed from overworking myself building the Huffington Post and being the divorced mother of two daughters. I fell down, hit my head on the desk and broke my cheekbone.”

She said she realized she was not living a sustainable life. It forced her to take a look at how she was living with stress and coping with it, and she began educating herself on the phenomenon of burnout.

Huffington believes stress is inevitable in every person’s life, and has undertaken a huge amount of personal research as well as initiated company studies into how people cope with it. She said she began “looking at how I dealt with stress. The stress did not go away, but my coping mechanisms changed.”

Soon after her collapse, Huffington began covering lifestyle and professional behavior pertaining to sleep, stress and burnout, and eventually left the Huffington Post and founded Thrive, a behavioral change company, to further the mission.

Huffington believes stress is a “global epidemic” and that it is necessary to change how people work and manage stress. She said we live in times of uncertainty and disruption and these issues will outlast the Covid-19 pandemic. She, therefore, advocated that people learn how to deal with uncertainty, disruption and stress without being overwhelmed by them. It is for this reason that Thrive has chosen “resilience” as the word of the year — and it may well be the word of the decade.

Huffington said, “Stress is unavoidable, but cumulative stress is avoidable.” To that end, Thrive as an organization brings together six journeys that life consists of – sleep, food, movement, focus, connection and finances – and outlines how to address stress brought on by each. She said it is impossible to overhaul all aspects of life at once and hence advocated an incremental approach that relies on creating micro steps that lead to one’s goal.

From the organizational perspective, Huffington said employers must create an environment where employees are encouraged to improve their work habits and that “the collective delusion all people toil under that they must be on it all the time” must be addressed.

She said that as a leader, it is important to know that decision-making skills are the most valuable asset of any employee from CEO to intern, and it is these skills that are the first to crumble when burnout looms.

She said three quarters of all startups fail and asked, “How many of these have failed because the employees were tired, overworked or burnt out, and thus made poor hiring and executive decisions?”

She said most of the hiring errors she had made in her business life had been caused by being too exhausted to notice the red flags during the interview process.

Huffington is also a strong advocate for disconnecting from the internet and the phone. She said the world had changed and as software no longer needs downtime, human downtime has been greatly reduced due to the speed at which computer processing occurs. She suggested that people routinely take time away from their devices and ensure that they are able to recharge their body, mind and spirit to live a sustainable and successful life.

The interview with Arianna Huffington was one of the eight grand keynotes at TiEcon 2022, the world’s largest conference for entrepreneurs and technologists.